The contribution of their long, lean reserve center was an unexpected bonus.
Shawn Marion had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and stringbean 7-foot backup Steven Hunter scored 16 points—one shy of his career high. The Suns, who made an NBA record 796 3-pointers in their 62-win regular season, set a franchise playoff record with 15 against the Grizzlies in 32 attempts.
Quentin Richardson added 22 points and Joe Johnson 16 as the NBA’s highest-scoring team in a decade topped its regular-season average by four. Steve Nash scored 11 on 3-of-11 shooting but had 13 assists. Amare Stoudemire, facing a crowd of defenders in the lane, sputtered in his playoff debut with nine points, 17 off his season average.
“Amare didn’t have a great night tonight, but they swarm him,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They’re taking that away from us, and that leaves us on the perimeter wide open. … That’s what they gave us, and we’re confident with it, and we’ll take it.”
Stoudemire’s struggles made Hunter’s 7-of-11 shooting all the more valuable.
“I just wanted to come off the bench with a lot of energy,” Hunter said. “I saw Amare struggling out there because Memphis really packs the lane so much that when he drove there were a lot of big, long bodies out there. I just wanted to get out there and get some hustle points and play good `D’.”
Hunter’s previous best in seven career playoff games was four points.
“He was into it. He was fired up and rightly so,” D’Antoni said. “He was doing a great job. He’s got a lot more games to do just exactly that. If he can hone in and be that presence, that’s great for us.”
Mike Miller scored 19, 16 in the second half, for Memphis. Jason Williams added 17 and Pau Gasol 16. Memphis led only once—21-20 with 4:14 left in the first quarter—but kept the deficit in single digits most of the night.
“We were teasing ourselves,” Memphis coach Mike Fratello said. “Stay within striking distance, but don’t ever get the big stop when you need it, don’t stop the dribble penetration when you need it, don’t make the big basket when you need it.”
Earl Watson’s driving basket with 6:51 to play cut the lead to 96-89, then Hunter saved an errant length-of-the-court pass from Nash, and Richardson made a 3-pointer and it was 99-89 with 6:08 left.
Richardson and Marion sank 3-pointers and Stoudemire finally got a power-dunk for a three-point play to give Phoenix its biggest lead, 107-91 with 4:18 remaining.
The Suns got a major scare when Marion was fouled by Shane Battier on a breakaway stuff attempt. Marion fell to the floor in pain, grabbing his right arm. But he stayed in the game and made 1-of-2 free throws on the flagrant foul call, capping a 12-2 run that gave Phoenix a 73-59 lead with 8:29 to go in the third quarter.
The injury was diagnosed as a sprained right wrist, and Marion wore a brace after the game. He said he hoped to be ready for Game 2 on Wednesday night. Marion said the foul was hard but clean.
Battier said he would have been fouled, too, if he had the ball in the same situation.
“I guarantee you, if I had a breakaway layup like that, I would wind up in the first row,” he said. “I didn’t mean to hurt Shawn. I respect him.”
Miller sank consecutive 3-pointers to cut the lead to 81-76 with 2:02 left in the third. Hunter, though, scored six of Phoenix’s last eight points of the quarter, capped by a fast-break dunk, and the Suns led 87-78 entering the fourth.
The Suns came out firing, and hitting, in a frenetic first quarter. Phoenix went 7-of-8 from 3-point range, with four players making at least one of them, in the period. Marion made all six of his first-quarter shots, two of them 3-pointers for 14 points.
After Miller’s 3-pointer put the Grizzlies ahead 21-20, the Suns mounted a 16-4 run to take a 36-25 lead on Johnson’s 3 with 1:07 left in the first quarter.
But the Suns’ shooting touch disappeared in a hurry. Phoenix missed its first 10 shots of the second quarter, and Memphis went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 39-36 on Gasol’s 22-footer with 8:03 left in the half.
The Suns’ previous playoff record for 3s was 13 at Seattle in 1997. … Marion was presented with the Suns’ Dan Majerle hustle award before the game. … There were no fouls called in the first quarter. … The Suns shot 67 percent in the first quarter (16-for-24), 24 percent (6-for-25) in the second. … Fratello’s playoff record fell to 20-35. … The NBA playoff record for 3-pointers in a game is 20 by Seattle against Houston in 1996.