PHOENIX (AP)—Steve Nash didn’t intend to shoot a lot of 3-pointers. They just came naturally in the flow of the game.
“I wasn’t looking for them, I don’t ever focus on them,” Nash said after scoring a season-high 31 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers, as the well-rested Phoenix Suns beat the tired Indiana Pacers 109-91 Wednesday night for their fourth straight victory.
Coming into the game, Nash had hit only 12 of 42 long range shots in 12 games. This time, he was 7-for-8.
“I don’t shoot that many in the summer, so it takes me some time to get into my rhythm,” he said, after hitting 10-of-15 overall from the field.
The Suns now have the NBA’s longest current winning streak, after holding an opponent under 100 points for the sixth straight game. During that stretch, the Suns have held opponents to an average of 88.3 points per game.
“Now, we’re showing teams we can play defense,” Shawn Marion, who added 21 points and 12 rebounds, said. Last season, Phoenix was the worst defensive team in the NBA, allowing 103.3 points per game.
Nash, who finished with nine assists and eight rebounds, had a sensational first half, hitting all five of his 3-point attempts and scoring 18 points, to go with six assists and four rebounds as the Suns built a 61-44 lead. Phoenix’s first-half total was one point more than the Pacers allowed in an 84-60 win at Utah on Tuesday night.
The Suns, who hadn’t played since Friday, took advantage of the road-weary Pacers, constantly pushing the ball and capitalizing on Indiana’s inability to get back on defense. Overall, the Suns hit 24-of-47 shots (51 percent) and outrebounded the Pacers 23-18 in the half. Marion also had 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the half.
The Suns never trailed during the first 24 minutes, and an 18-7 run over the final 4:31 of the first period gave them a 35-17 lead at the end of the quarter.
“We didn’t play well enough early to give ourselves a chance,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our undoing was the first quarter, when we were outscored by 18. Our energy level wasn’t where it needed to be early.”
Perhaps that was because the Pacers were playing their third game in four nights on the road.
“We wanted to push the ball up and get a comfortable lead early,” Thomas said.
“They were in back-to-back games and we wanted to make their legs heavier,” Marion said. “We took advantage of what we had to take advantage of.”
Nash added, “We didn’t want to be sluggish after four days of practice. We didn’t want them to force their slowdown game on us. They’re better than us in a halfcourt game.”
The Suns increased their opening advantage to as much as 20 in the second period. Indians then closed within 10, but Nash connected on two 3s and Raja Bell hit one in the final 4:15, restoring the commanding advantage before halftime.
Indiana did not attempt a free throw in the half.
Phoenix hiked its lead to as much as 34 points in the third quarter, with the help of a 17-0 run over a 5:15 span midway through the period. Marion began the run with a slam dunk and finished it with two free throws, while Nash hit his record 3-pointer. No player other than O’Neal, who had eight points in the third, scored for the Pacers until Jones made a layup with 2:42 remaining in the period.
Indiana never got closer than 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Carlisle was ejected early in the fourth quarter after incurring two technical fouls. … Artest and O’Neal are both averaging more than 20 points per game. No Pacers teammates have averaged over 20 since Billy Knight (26.6) and John Williamson (20.7) in 1976-77, Indiana’s first season in the NBA. … James Jones played against Indiana for the first time since Phoenix acquired him from the Pacers for a second-round draft choice in August and scored two points, going 1-for-6. … Artest leads the league in steals, while Nash is the NBA leader in assists and free throw percentage.