The old man — and I don’t mean Bill Russell, who sat courtside — kept gathering his troops at every timeout, exhorting them to hang in there. Hang in there.
That’s Grant Hill’s job these days. Leadership. Well, leadership and scoring 21 points against the Thunder and playing backup point guard while a rookie picks him up fullcourt and chasing around after Kevin Durant, 16 years his junior.
Hill does his job well. His Phoenix Suns ended the Thunder’s unbeaten February with a rousing 104-102 victory at the Ford Center that was a salute to grit and experience.
"We’ve been in that situation before,” Hill said of trailing by 10 points with 31/2 minutes left. "Keep playing, play the whole game. Keep playing. We did.”
This was a valuable lesson for the Thunder to learn. Hard, but valuable. This league is full of old, regal paladins who ice up in the post-game locker room and limp out of the arena, but while the clock is ticking will scratch out your eyeballs for a victory.
"That’s a good team,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "They’ve got some tough-minded, savvy players.”
Even with 36-year-old Steve Nash in Phoenix nursing a sore back, the Suns won this game with old men. Amare Stoudemire, 27, and Jason Richardson, 29, old by Thunder standards, combined for 50 points, and Richardson’s running floater with 0.7 seconds left won it.
But don’t forget the 37-year-old Hill, who is so ancient he first played in a big game in Oklahoma in December 1990
, when he had 19 points and eight rebounds as a true freshman in Duke’s 90-85 victory over Billy Tubbs’ Sooners at Lloyd Noble Center.
Hill has played a million games since then. Four Final Fours, including one as a senior with Jeff Capel as his freshman point guard. Six NBA All-Star Games. Fifteen pro seasons.
An ankle injury from hell limited Hill to just 47 games over four seasons in the early part of this decade, but now Hill has his second wind. In the last week, Suns coach Alvin Gentry has asked Hill to guard Dirk Nowitzki, Tyreke Evans and now, for a huge chunk of the game, Durant, who scored 36 points but, in Gentry’s estimation, had to work for everything he got.
Box score from Tuesday's game