The NBA’s best three-point shooting team was desperate after losing six straight. The Phoenix Suns needed to play with flawless spirit to keep the Golden State Warriors’ heads below water.
The Suns had spirit alright, and with legs fresher and a renewed attitude for the most part coming after a victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, they hung with the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. But a late fourth-quarter burst by the better team told the tale, and Mark Jackson’s team pulled out a 108-98 victory in Oakland, Calif.
It was of no fault of Goran Dragic or Luis Scola, who appeared reenergized following some rest and after carrying too much of a load all season long. Dragic followed up his career assist night with 20 points, 10 assists and five steals, and Scola tallied 14 points and 10 rebounds.
A few things made this a different Suns team than the one before the All-Star break. Tired legs weren’t an issue, as Scola and Dragic hit their jump shots that failed to drop during a four-game losing streak leading into the week off. They combined to connect on 14-of-26 shots. And as a team, Phoenix for a game didn’t trend toward its lowly three-point accuracy of 32.4 on the season. It hit 5-of-7 three-pointers in the first half, negating the Warriors’ 5-of-12 three-point shooting that has them at the very top of the NBA in accuracy on the year.
Phoenix finished the night hitting 9-of-17 three-point attempts, but the confident-looking Warriors staved off a few Suns runs by hitting 10-of-20 of their own shots beyond the arc.
Overall, it was a cleanly-played game as each team shot between 47 and 49 percent from the floor. There were only 24 total turnovers, and the Warriors and Suns had 29 and 28 assists, respectively. The team with more firepower and better defensive philosophies here or there came away with the win.
Klay Thompson was at the heart of Golden State’s attack, scoring 14 first-quarter points en route to a game-leading 28. Stephen Curry mirrored Dragic’s production with 20 points and 11 assists, but the Warriors also had David Lee chip in with 19 and Jarrett Jack score 21 off the pine.
Ten points from Dragic in the first quarter in addition to five assists and two steals got the Suns keeping pace with the Warriors, but Golden State led 33-26 by getting out on the break. Golden State briefly led by 11 but took a 57-49 lead at halftime in part because of a 15-4 advantage in fastbreak points.
In the third quarter, the Suns clung to the Warriors but never could take a lead. They got within two at 73-71 with four minutes to play in the third, but Golden State pushed its lead to 85-76 heading to the fourth. The Suns again chipped away at the deficit, coming within 94-90 with four minutes left, but the Warriors hit 7-of-8 shots in the final four minutes of the game to outscore the Suns 14-8.
What has often defined the struggling Suns this year has been that same failure to lock down teams in the fourth quarter. Combine that with a lack of a go-to scorer, and again Phoenix’s two issues have done more to hurt itself than any team-wide lack of talent might. In a league where individual play wins games, those issues sting time and time again, even moreso than any measurement of the Suns’ effort — which again was there for the most part of Wednesday’s game.
Who’s on the block?
Marcin Gortat played only 25 minutes against the Warriors, coming up with eight points, four rebounds and three blocks. Whether that was because backup Jermaine O’Neal was outplaying him (he was) or whether the Suns were hoping for one last audition before the trade deadline, the elder center definitely helped his own cause if he’s moved.
With the Suns roster at 15 players on the eve of the Marcus Morris trade, one player will need to be traded or bought out before the deal with Houston goes official. Reportedly, that player will be O’Neal according to Marc Stein, who is showing flashes of his old self. He scored 17 points on Wednesday and grabbed 12 rebounds for his third double-digit rebounding game in a row.
The Knicks are interested in adding another dinosaur to their front court, according to reports.
Lakers beat writer Eric Pincus also is tossing around the idea that Los Angeles should go after O’Neal, though that’s his idea rather than rumor.
And in general Wednesday, it was a weird night where minutes could have been divided with Thursday’s trade deadline in mind.
The bad news on Wednesday is that two key pieces to Phoenix’s future, Michael Beasley and Kendall Marshall, only combined for 20 minutes of play. Wes Johnson for the second game in a row saw minutes as Shannon Brown sat, and he scored seven points.
Marcus Morris will “shed a tear or two” by joining Markieff
Good find by Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk; CSN Houston caught up with Marcus Morris upon learning he’d be traded to Phoenix. Morris was held out of Wednesday’s game between the Rockets and Thunder.