Suns keep streaking, clinch playoffs
Steve Nash was at his darting best in the final two minutes, paving the way for the Phoenix Suns' eight straight victory on a night they clinched a playoff spot.
In a 111-105 victory over Chicago, Nash had the Bulls guessing: will he shoot, drive, dump it inside or kick it back out? And with Chicago's Kirk Hinrich sidelined in the second half with a sprained ankle, Nash had room to work.
In a frantic final stretch, Nash drove to the lane and turned around for a jumper. Seconds later, he maneuvered his way back to the basket and used his familiar scoop shot to score and start a three-point play.
He found Channing Frye for a clutch tiebreaking 3-pointer with 41.6 seconds left, passed to Grant Hill for a dunk and then hit two free throws to finish off his 22-point, 10-assist night.
All from a guy who had been nursing a sore back and the sniffles.
"If I'm honest, I was taking so many meds for my back and cold that I actually felt a little loopy for most of the game," Nash said. "It helped my back but I was a little dizzy out there. At the end of the game I just tried to hang in there. We had a chance to win and I was fortunate to make some plays when it counted."
Jason Richardson led the Suns with 27 points and Amare Stoudemire had 21 points - 13 in the first quarter - and 11 rebounds. The Suns are currently in fourth in the West.
"If you look at all the teams in the West, we've had a great run and we haven't moved anywhere basically," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
The 6-foot-11 Frye connected on three 3-pointers.
"We were able to space the floor and get some opportunities in the paint and make some plays," Nash said.
"We put him out there or a reason, to stretch the floor. They double-teamed me and collapsed on Amare on the pick and roll and he came up to the top wide open," Nash added. "That's a good shot for all of us."
Flip Murray and Derrick Rose, who kept Chicago close down the stretch with 10 points in the final period, had 23 points each. The Bulls are 1 1/2 games behind Toronto for the eighth playoff spot in East.
"They hit big shots and made big plays and there was nothing we could do about it," Rose said. "We're still trying to make a push for the playoffs."
After Hill's dunk 23.2 seconds remaining restored Phoenix's lead to three, Rose missed a long 3-pointer when he had to double clutch. Nash then sank a pair of free throws with 13 seconds to go.
"I felt like I should take it," Rose said. "I had to adjust. In the future when that play comes around again, I'll know what to do."
Stoudemire dunked on the break over James Johnson, was fouled and converted the three-point play to highlight a late 10-0 first-quarter run by the Suns that opened up a quick 12-point lead.
The Suns' lead didn't last long as Jannero Pargo hit a pair of 3-pointers and Murray another in a 13-2 Chicago run that tied the game early in the second.
Notes: The Suns' last eight-game winning streak came from Nov. 9-23, 2007. ... Hinrich sprained his left ankle in the second quarter. He tested it during warmups for the second half and then did not return ... Joakim Noah was assessed a technical foul after the first half. He said he was asking officials at midcourt why teammate Chris Richard had been called for a flagrant foul late in the half. ... Entering the game, Stoudemire had averaged 27.6 points in the 20 games since the All-Star break. ... Murray brought the crowd to its feet by swishing a midcourt hook shot at the end of the third quarter, but the shot came after the horn. The call was upheld by video review. ... The Suns are 17-4 since the All-Star break.