PHOENIX -- Here's what beauty looked like in the Phoenix Suns' eyes Wednesday night.
Four guys on the floor whom the casual fan has never heard of.
Two who-the-hell-was-Leandro-Barbosa-passing-to turnovers.
And an 11-point San Antonio lead erased.
If you're still under the impression that the Suns are the same finesse bunch that reinvigorated the NBA half a decade ago, you didn't watch the even-numbered quarters of their 110-102 victory in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals.
The Suns were down nine after one quarter, thanks to untidy 7-of-21 shooting.
Worse yet, Spurs forward Tim Duncan had that saucer-eyed, hide-the-children, serial killer look as he dumped in 11 points.
It was gonna be a long night.
"We were playing like poopsicles," Phoenix center Channing Frye said.
Game 2: Suns 110, Spurs 102
Series: Suns 2, Spurs 0
The Suns bench didn't improve the team's shooting percentage in the second quarter. But it sure jacked up the intensity level, giving life to a group of starters who looked ready to accept a two-game split heading to San Antonio.
Phoenix's reserves grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the period, Frye hit a huge 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game and Jared Dudley scored on a trio of layups that were all guts and hustle.
With that, the bench handed the baton back to the starters and the Suns found themselves in a 51-51 halftime tie, despite 34.7 percent shooting.
"I think it was about as gritty a win as we've had since I've been around here," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
That makes sense. Grit was not the calling card of the Mike D'Antoni-coached Suns. Nor was depth.
It was no secret D'Antoni had no faith in his bench. He regularly used a seven-man rotation, and some experts agreed with that decision.
"Who's he going to play?" NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy once asked me. "The [excrement] at the end of the bench?"
But Suns general manager Steve Kerr was of a different mind. The development of the bench was one of the biggest sources of contention between Kerr and D'Antoni.
|What reserve Louis Amundson doesn't provide in offense, he makes up for with hustle (five rebounds in nine minutes). (Getty Images)|
"I'm not doing it because anybody told me to," Gentry insisted. "I'm doing it because I think it gives us the best opportunity to win."
It was hard to argue on Wednesday night.
The Suns got 15 points, four rebounds and some hard-nosed defense on Duncan from Frye, who missed his first two shots before hitting his final five from 3-point range.
For the rest of the bench, the task is to bring energy, and they delivered. Louis Amundson had five rebounds (three offensive) in nine minutes, and the Suns got 11 points and six rebounds (four offensive) from Dudley, who crawled under the Spurs' skin the way Bruce Bowen used to irk the Suns.
"Jared's our player of the game," Nash said. "More than anything, he gave us energy and confidence. He changed the game."
Although the bench couldn't shoot straight, it played Spur-like defense, holding San Antonio to only eight points in the first six minutes of the second quarter to allow a rally to take shape.
"When Alvin took over, he made a commitment to developing the depth and giving guys like Steve and Grant a rest," Dudley said. "With our offense being so good, if we can finish in the top 10 of the league defensively, we're going to win a lot more games."
Gentry has also given his bench players the freedom to screw up without worrying when their next minutes might materialize.
"The big thing about coming off the bench is not knowing when you're going to come in, but here, I know what time and what situation. Everyone knows their roles. It's the same all the time," Dudley said. "That's crucial to the chemistry. It's crucial to confidence and it's crucial to success."
It's also been crucial to building a 2-0 series lead.
"We're not the same team as the Suns were in the past," Frye said. "We're going to win games that maybe the other teams were supposed to win."
Even against the hated Spurs.