PHOENIX (AP)—The Phoenix Suns didn’t slow down without Amare Stoudemire. Quite the contrary.
They inserted the fastest Phoenix player of all, Leandro Barbosa, into the starting lineup Friday night and the “Brazilian Blur” responded with a career-high 41 points to lead the Suns to a 140-118 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I love to play running up and down,” Barbosa said. “I think everybody does.”
Jason Richardson added 34 points and Shaquille O’Neal 22 as the Suns became the first team in 18 seasons to score at least 140 points in three consecutive games. The Portland Trail Blazers did it from Nov. 13-17 in 1990. The Suns did it for the first time in franchise history.
With the Boston Celtics coming to town next, new Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry assured everyone the high-scoring streak was over.
“I can promise you we are not get 140 Sunday,” he said.
Kevin Durant scored 35 for the Thunder, who trailed by 28 in the first half but cut the lead to six early in the fourth quarter before Barbosa and the Suns blew the game open for good.
“They started to go back to the way they were playing the first quarter,” Durant said, “fast shooting 3s—they’re just a different basketball team than we played before.”
Barbosa, a starter after Stoudemire underwent surgery earlier in the day to repair a partially torn retina in his right eye, also had seven assists and tied his career best with six steals.
“Incredible performance,” the Suns’ Steve Nash said. “What can you say? That’s Jordan-like numbers. It was fun to see him have a big night like that— he was everywhere—and hopefully he can get some rest for Sunday.”
Barbosa reached his career best and put the Suns at 140 with a jumper with 20.7 seconds to play after his teammates kept urging him to keep shooting.
“I didn’t know what was happening on the court at the end of the game,” Barbosa said. “We were winning and coach said for me to keep going to the basket. After we finished the game, I found out I had 41 points. I was very happy, but I was happier that we did it together.”
Phoenix improved to 3-0 since Terry Porter was fired and replaced by Gentry, who reinstated the Suns’ super-speed style that the team played so well under Mike D’Antoni.
Since that change, the Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers 140-110 on Wednesday night and 142-119 on Thursday. Those two wins came with Stoudemire, who won’t be able to resume physical activity for about eight weeks, meaning he could well be out for the rest of the season.
Gentry decided to go small with the All-Star power forward out, inserting Barbosa at guard, shifting Richardson to small forward and Grant Hill as the starting power forward.
“I think this proves if we really push the ball and make good decisions, we can score no matter who is in the lineup,” Nash said.
Barbosa made 16 of 21 shots, including 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter. He was 5-for-7 on 3-pointers. Matt Barnes had 14 points and career-best nine assists for the Suns.
Down 97-76 after Barnes’ inside basket with 3:40 to go in the third quarter, the Thunder climbed back in it with a 15-2 run that cut the lead to 99-91 on Earl Watson’s 3 with 1:16 left in the period. The Suns led 103-93 entering the fourth.
“I think what happened is we got tired,” Gentry said. “We still had the same shots and I don’t think we quite had our legs, so we didn’t quite get the ball to the basket. … Plus, Durant is a heck of a player.”
Nenad Kristic made a pair of 20-footers in a 6-0 spurt that cut the lead to 105-99 after Nick Collison’s inside basket with 9:40 to go.
Richardson’s fourth 3-pointer—in five tries—capped a 12-2 run that put Phoenix ahead 122-105 with 4:26 to play, and Oklahoma City was finished.
The Suns made seven of 10 3s and had a 24-2 advantage in fastbreak points in taking a 79-57 halftime lead. It was the team’s third half of at least 70 points in the last three games.
“The first half, we can’t spot a good team 80 points,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We can score points, but we can’t score like that.”
Porter was the point guard of the Portland team that scored 140 three games in a row. … The Thunder, formerly the Seattle SuperSonics, haven’t won in Phoenix since Feb. 11, 2005. … Durant was flattened by O’Neal on a drive to the basket early in the second quarter. O’Neal was called for a flagrant foul. … Phoenix’s three victories have come over teams with a combined 26-84 record. … Gentry and Scott Skiles (1999) are the only Suns coaches to win their first three games.