PHOENIX – We’re sorry. Here’s an extension for you, Gordon Hayward. And here’s one for you, Eric Bledsoe.
Bledsoe struggled with foul trouble and bad decision-making while only playing eight first-half minutes Friday in U.S. Airways Center. But after teammate Goran Dragic left the game against the Utah Jazz with a right facial contusion, the Phoenix Suns guard made up for the questionable play.
On the day after he and the Suns (2-0) couldn’t agree upon a contract extension, Bledsoe scored the team’s final 14 points to finish the game and hold off the Jazz 87-84. Meanwhile, fellow non-extension earner Gordon Hayward nearly bested Bledsoe.
The Jazz down 84-81, Hayward hit a 25-foot three-point jumper atop the key and with P.J. Tucker sliding out of the way with 16.8 seconds left to give Utah a one-point lead. Out of Phoenix’s timeout, Bledsoe waited for the clock to wind down, waited more, waived off the oncoming Miles Plumlee screen and launched a three over Hayward at the same straight-on spot. Utah had only 0.7 seconds to score and didn’t. Game over.
Bledsoe finished with 18 points, six assists, two steals and five turnovers.
Dragic left the game after a scary collision with P.J. Tucker at the tail end of the first half. He attempted to return in the second but was pulled early with a right facial contusion. Phoenix shot just 37 percent, gave up 22 offensive rebounds but somehow survived.
Now, I try to answer three queries Ryan Weisert posed in our preview.
Which restricted free agent-to-be will look the most worth the money?
Two major reasons the Suns didn’t hand Bledsoe a big contract extension came to a front Friday. For one, he’s young. For another, he still has a long, long way to go if he’s going to play point guard for a winning team.
Bledsoe produced a point, three turnovers and three fouls that kept him to eight minutes played in the first half. He picked up his first foul pushing on a fastbreak but over-penetrating into the paint while out of control as Jazz player waited – Bledsoe picked up a charge. One of Bledsoe’s questionable plays came in the halfcourt, where from atop the key and without movement he attempted to fling the ball to the corner a la Carson Palmer throwing into triple-coverage. The only good thing of the play came when the ball was deflected into the Jazz’s Gatorade cooler.
As the Suns tried to reset off an offensive rebound with five minutes to play, Bledsoe seemingly backed the ball out but surprisingly tossed it to P.J. Tucker, who was walking to his position for the set and not even looking his teammates way.
But the ending? That was extension-worthy.
Gordon Hayward finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and nearly won Utah the game.
How will Miles Plumlee fair against Utah’s pair of highly touted young bigs?
The Suns had 10 blocks to one for the Jazz, a sign their smaller size was sneaking up on the Utah big men.
Plumlee and Channing Frye both had decent enough success pushing Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter off the block when they got caught on iso situations in the post. Plumlee recorded a double-double for the second game of his career and finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Not surprisingly, he did struggle holding the Utah bigs off the offensive glass.
Can the Suns keep up their pace?
After the Suns built a 29-23 first-quarter lead, the Suns’ offense significantly dropped off in the second quarter. Phoenix went 6-for-20 after shooting 10-for-20 in the first quarter. It hurt that they couldn’t corral enough defensive rebounds to push the ball up the court, through they did produce fastbreaks with the blocks.
In short, they picked their spots. Poor shooting nearly did them in, but Utah was worse at 36.5 percent.