PHOENIX — On a night when Jared Dudley scored two points, the Phoenix Suns weren’t gasping for breaths on offense. It was a stark contrast to last season’s team, which never could afford a key member failing to produce in the scoring department.
A Kyle Singler three-pointer cut Phoenix’s lead to 91-89 with 4.2 seconds left, but the Suns held off Detroit for a 92-89 home victory on Friday. Both defense and offense had to do with that. Five players reached double-figures for the Suns, and they held the Pistons to seven points in eight minutes leading into the halftime break, building an eight-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Luis Scola said Friday’s balance was a good blueprint for how the team will look with its current makeup.
“It’s the only way we’re going to win games,” he said. “Sometimes somebody is going to score 25, 30 points, (but) most of the time it’s going to be like this. Most of the guys are going to score above 10. That’s the way we have to approach it.”
Marcin Gortat scored 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and controlled the paint with three blocks. Goran Dragic again produced with 15 points and 10 assists. Michael Beasley and Scola put in 16 and 13 points, respectively, and helped the Suns to a 52-39 rebounding advantage on the night.
“I thought we made some strides from where we were the other night, especially in the rebound department,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “You know, they had four early offensive rebounds and they ended up with 10 for the game.
“Offensively, we are very much still a work in progress,” he added. “We have to get a rhythm. We have to get a sense of what we are doing out there and the spacing.”
Detroit didn’t get within six points during the entire second half until less than a minute remained, and through two games Phoenix has yet to allow a team to shoot better than 42 percent. Dudley did his job in holding Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey to one point on 0-for-7 shooting.
It wasn’t all perfect defense. Detroit got going early with dribble penetration that led to Phoenix’s bigs rotating and then giving up the early offensive rebounds Gentry alluded to. Jason Maxiell had 13 first-quarter points and two offensive boards himself.
With a minute to play in the first quarter, Detroit went on a 7-0 spurt against the Suns, who slowly substituted the bench into the game. Markieff Morris was the first man off the bench, and Wesley Johnson was second.
Johnson hit his first shot of the game, a three-pointer with a minute left to make it 25-24 Detroit before the aforementioned 7-0 spurt. He saw time at the small forward slot with Brown at the shooting guard slot.
That happened because Beasley’s sleepy play on defense earned him a seat next to Gentry. He left Tayshaun Prince wide open on one play, fouled him from behind on the next after going for a steal, then fouled Prince on a jumper close to three-point territory within the final few minutes of the first quarter.
Detroit led 39-28 with eight minutes to play in the first half. But like the Golden State opener, Scola’s reinsertion into the lineup marked a change in fortune. He scored seven of the next nine points on a 9-2 Phoenix run, part of a 26-7 total run Phoenix used before halftime.
“We got to put our second unit in a better situation and give ourselves more room for error,” Scola said.
Phoenix had a 54-46 lead at the break thanks to Scola’s energy. Beasley even made up for his early defensive miscues, scoring six quick points in the final 2:30 of the half.
And the Suns’ bench showed much better in the second half, where Shannon Brown had 10 points to keep the offense humming. Brown finished with 14 for the game and closed in place of Dudley.
Phoenix had a 71-63 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“We’re a deep team,” Gentry said. “When guys are going good, I just think they deserve to stay in the game. Shannon made some shots for us. I felt good about the way Shannon was playing and I let him finish the game.”
Morris might have been the biggest disappointment on Friday. Outside of an emphatic put-back slam dunk, he went 3-for-12 from the floor with three turnovers in 18 minutes.
But his shooting struggles weren’t only on him. The Suns admitted they are still learning how to properly space the floor. They shot 43.5 percent from the floor and a lowly 2-for-11 from three-point range.
And while for the second time in a row Phoenix had double-digit deficit in the first half, they’ll take that they twice recovered and they once won.
Said Gentry: “I just thought it was a much-needed win, obviously. Kind of a gut check.”
Gentry said prior to the game to take little meaning out of P.J. Tucker’s use in the season opener, saying the plan all along was to play Johnson. A double-digit deficit against the Warriors, however, called for a defensive presence.
On Friday, Johnson saw first-half action while Tucker took over the same substitution pattern in the second half. Gentry said that he wanted both players to play so either would be ready for crunch-time minutes. Because Phoenix needed defense and not shooting as Detroit made a final push, Tucker got the nod.