The Arizona Republic
Apr. 30, 2005 12:00 AM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Big, tough and nasty. That's your Phoenix Suns, at least on Friday night.
From the Amaré Stoudemire dunks that drew the only second-half noise out of FedExForum to the Joe Johnson retaliatory elbow into James Posey's chest, the Suns were more than your fun, friendly offensive juggernaut.
Getting big and tough turned the Suns' 110-90 Game 3 victory around when they took on both personalities simultaneously at the end of the first quarter.
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni opted to use Johnson instead of Leandro Barbosa
as his backup point guard, giving the Suns the bigger look with a 6-foot-7 ballhandler.
It was what Johnson did shortly after taking over the point at the end of the first quarter that got the previously defensively disengaged Suns to dig in for the long run.
After Johnson scored in the post to cut Memphis' last decent lead to 30-27, he was bumped on the way back by Posey and immediately responded with a high elbow into Posey's torso.
Johnson was hit with a technical, but Memphis took a bigger blow.
From that point until Phoenix led by 19 early in the fourth quarter, Memphis shot 33 percent. It was similar to Phoenix's last trip here, when Steve Nash's chair-slamming frustration elicited a game-changing defensive stretch.
"They stepped it up after that for sure," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.
The look with Johnson at point was just as important for getting Jim Jackson
After Jackson and Barbosa went scoreless in Game 2, D'Antoni wanted to find a rhythm for Jackson while exploiting mismatches with Johnson, who has earned the right to play point with his improved ball handling of late.
Jackson said the bigger lineup was effective defensively because "what Memphis was trying to do was get everything close to the basket. They hesitated on their jump shots."
But it all went back from a surprising shot from the mild-mannered Johnson, playing before dozens of friends and relatives from nearby Little Rock, Ark.
"They try to get into our heads by holding and pushing and scrapping and slapping," Stoudemire said. "But ever since that point (of Johnson's technical), we turned it up and took over."