San Antonio Spurs 99, Phoenix Suns 96 – New Suns lose a heartbreaker to old foes

The disappointment was all over Jeff Hornacek’s face as the final horn sounded. In a game that would have forced the NBA to take the Suns’ winning record seriously, Phoenix fell just short succumbing to Tony Parker and the Spurs 99-96 in San Antonio. Phoenix hung with last year’s Western Conference champs for all 48 minutes thanks in part to stellar bench performance highlighted by Markieff Morris’s 23 points and 12 rebounds. The Suns reserves played incredibly fast in the first half, turning an eight point deficit into a nine point lead in under eight minutes in the second quarter. The Morris twins were a stellar off the bench tandem for the second game in a row, a revelation which is certainly one of the highlights of Phoenix’s first road trip this season. To break down the game further, let’s answer Kevin Zimmerman’s three preview questions.

Just how good is Eric Bledsoe on defense?

The matchup between Eric Bledsoe and Tony Parker was a 48 minute war. Bledsoe won the battles in the first three quarters, holding Parker to just five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Eric was efficient offensively, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but had just two assists in the first 36 minutes as the Suns’ starters struggled against the Spurs’ best five. In the first three frames, Parker was passive and content to throw the ball into Tim Duncan, who was dominating Miles Plumlee in the paint. With Parker distributing, the Spurs offense got easy bucket after easy bucket, making the Suns’ defense, which was Top 5 in the NBA heading into tonight’s game, look very, very average.

The dynamics of the point guard war completely shifted in the fourth quarter however. Both teams brought their starters back with about eight minutes to play. Duncan was gassed, so the Spurs’ offensive focus shifted to Parker. Poppovich wanted him to score and score he did. Parker dropped 15 points in the final frame, hitting all seven of his shots. It’s not clear if Bledsoe was tired, concerned about keeping the Suns close in a tight game, or simply not ready for Parker to unleash himself, but whatever the case, Eric was no match.  Parker got to the rim with ease, ran Bledsoe around screens, and beat him for a layup off a late inbounds play that put the Spurs up 99-96. Bledsoe was scoreless in the fourth. He had been Phoenix’s valiant closer in the last two games, but tonight he could not find his shot down the stretch. Bledsoe did have three assists in the fourth including a beautiful pick-and-roll lob over a Duncan-Parker double team which Plumlee dunked with authority. Bledsoe made Parker work all night long, but ultimately the Frenchman won the war and showed Bledsoe that he still has a ways to go as both an aspiring elite point guard and team leader.

What pans out with backup point guard spots?

Ish Smith was excellent again, showing off his speed on nearly every possession he was on the floor. While he was not as prolific against the Spurs as he was Tuesday night in New Oreleans, his speed spurred an incredible effort from the second unit that kept the Suns in the game and kept the Spurs’ reserves on their heels. Smith finished with just six points and a single assist, but he definitely outdueled San Antonio’s Patty Mills who finished with only two points and three assists. Mills could do absolutely nothing to stay in front of Smith. The Suns are so young and so athletic 1 through 12 that having a speedy point guard to drive a very fast pace in the second unit will be a huge asset all season long.

Can Miles Plumlee score big against a solid gameplan?

Just as it was between Bledsoe and Parker, in tonight’s game Tim Duncan played the master and Miles Plumlee played the student. For the first three quarters, Duncan put on a clinic against Phoenix’s second-year center. Tim scored seemingly at will in the paint, putting on an offensive clinic worthy of the Big Fundamental moniker. Plumlee was little better than a folding chair defensively in the first three frames, though he did do a good job of staying out of foul trouble. Plumlee’s problem, which he will see very clearly when he watches this film, was his positioning. He allowed Duncan to get position on him every time the Spurs swung the ball. In the future, he’ll engage and battle earlier. Everytime Duncan caught the ball, Plumlee gave him the baseline which is a defensive no-no especially in the paint.

On the offensive end, Duncan played ten feet off of Plumlee any time Miles caught the ball at the high post. It was clear Plumlee was a bit out of his depth being guarded by the future Hall of Famer. He did manage eight points in the first 36 minutes however, including a Duncan-esque 15-foot banker.

Though he definitely struggled early, credit goes to Plumlee for keeping his confidence up and his head in the game because when he and Duncan both returned to the court in the fourth quarter, the power had noticeably shifted. Duncan was dog tired. His jumper was short. He wasn’t battling for position. And he was more than content to watch Parker zoom around the court. When the Suns had the ball, Duncan’s exhaustion allowed Plumlee’s young legs to carry him to seven points. Plumlee’s three baskets were all crucial to keeping the Suns close as Parker and the Spurs tried to pull away. In the end, Duncan probably gets the W because of the damage he did early, but Plumlee refused to be knocked out and made this a close one in the end.


Tags: Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap San Antonio Spurs

  • JK

    Watching the OKC/Dallas game right now and Steven Adams looks great out there. Really hoping that Len wasn’t a swing and a miss.

  • ShanMan

    When I saw Adams play, I just had a strange urge to slap his face through my tv. Don’t know if I want that feeling watching the Suns everytime….

    I think Markeiff reads these boards talking trash about him when he gets to the hotel, because he has decided to actually play some ball these past two games.


    great wrap up ryan.

  • tim

    U TRD gortat and then don’t use Len at all what’s the deal with that he need to play as much as possible

  • Scott

    All in all, a good game by the Suns, marked with their immaturity versus the maturity of the Spurs. The Suns might have been just one Dragon away from winning.

  • EBJM

    Yeah, that’s brilliant Tim. Len has soreness in his surgically repaired ankle so lets put the seven-footer out on the court and have him just pound away on those weak ankles.

  • DJsuns

    This fits the plan perfectly lose hard fought games and get more experience and lottery balls at the same time! If only the Morii could be consistent over a 10 game stretch I’ll start to think they are not a bust. It’s kinda weird to be happy when they lose games but in the big picture that is what will help us be a better team with 4 possible 1st rounders coming this next draft

  • hawki

    Nice stuff Weisert on Plumlee…..he has been the biggest surprise of the young season.

  • JK


    Let’s keep the trash talking going then. I’m loving Markieff’s game right now.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    ha ha, the Morii…

  • http://none Keith

    Way too hard on Plumlee. He played very well. His defense was fine too. Tim is just unstoppable. But he forced him to take a lot of tough shots. And overall the defense was not bad vs a very good offensive team. Great loss!

  • vtsunrise

    So, what are the season expectations now? This is definitely not a 16-26 win team. 31-41 wins? .500 ball? Playoff contender? Bubble team?

    For them to seriously compete on the road vs. two elite teams… Verrry interesting. Can’t wait for Sunday. US Airways, here I come. I hope the boys bring their best.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    @ EBJM:
    Why do you pick up an injured player in the draft in the first place?

  • john

    My expectations for the season haven’t changed at all. 25-30 wins. They’ve played 5 games, guys. Slow your roll.

  • EBJM

    Sillmarion I’ve posted all along that I didn’t like Len or Noels being taken in the lottery because of the injuries.

    Ankle and knee injuries in 20 year-old seven-footers to begin an NBA career usually end up like Andrew Bynum.

    Trading Gortat opened up the center position for Plumlee who is physically ready for the NBA. Sure Alex Len needs time on the court to develop but IMO you bring him along like the Heat are bringing Oden along, very slowly.

    I’m just as happy as everybody else the Suns are winning. I’ve been a fan since day one and J.C. never tanked a season except for the season of the drug scandal where he quickly dismantled the whole team.

    Slava is about to hit his prime and we are supposedly rebuilding, not looking for the 8th seed to get bounced in the 1st rd. Play Slava to see if he has a future as a back-up. Let West and Gattison continue to develop Len’s skills privately with minimum pounding on his ankles until he can play without soreness developing.

    The kid is only 20, let him heal completely before pushing him hard in games that the Suns have unexpectedly become very competitive.

  • EBJM

    I agree with John on this one. Suns play has gotten everybody excited. But lets not revert to the days of J.C. where his method was to tweek a roster until the core completely played out instead of going for a full rebuild. There still isn’t a “core” to tweek.

    Suns are obviously going to tease us all season long. Proving the skeptics wrong as we will not be the NBA doormats but we are a star or two short of making any serious noise in the playoffs IF they happened to slip in due to other teams faltering badly.

    It would be a great season to lose their games by a three-pointer but still end up with Julius Randles.

    BTW wasn’t Plumlee and Duncan guarding each other and Diaw or Splitter had Markieff? Bonner sat out, he would have been matched with Markieff. Spurs played a lot of “small-ball” as other than Tiaglo, Diaw is their next bigger player.

    So if Markieff couldn’t produce against those guys he should have been waived this morning.

  • Nick

    Do your homework bro. Traded Gortat for another first round pick(outstanding). And Len isn’t playing because he’s coming off two surgeries and has ankle pain.

  • Ty-Sun

    I doubt that Len was drafted without consulting the Suns’ magical medical warlocks beforehand and I’m sure they are behind him not playing now. If anyone can keep him healthy, they can.

    As to how good the Suns record will be at the end of the season, I have no freaking idea now! If they stay healthy, Goodwin and Len start contributing, they keep playing solid D, Green keeps hitting 3s, Morris has more games like last night… well, they could be a .500 or better team. Especially if the injury bug starts hitting other teams.

    Before the season started, I was thinking the Suns would be lucky to win 1 of the first 5 games and would probably get blown out by OKC and SA. But Horny has done a great job and everyone on the team seems to be giving 100% on the court every night. Ya gotta love these guys no matter how the season turns out.

  • Ty-Sun
  • NOitall

    Did we really trade Gortat to give Len PT? Me thinks we traded Gortat cause he needed to go and had no future or value for us. Re-signing him to a long term deal makes no sense unless he is willing to take his current salary over that period, which he is not.

    Len was a terrible pick and will prove that out. But nothing we can do about that.

    On Bledsoe, he needs time to adjust to things. You have to remember, he is playing in a new system, new coach, new teammates and new role [being the full-time PG]. So far, I really like what I see. And let us not forget that even HOF’rs have weaknesses.

  • Mel.

    @vtsunrise: I’ve still got the season on a bubble, albeit a positive one. I think we’ll see some major slumps where the growing pains outstrip the athleticism and hunger of the team, which will take Horny some time to hash out.

    It might just be the pessimism of the last few seasons sticking in my craw, but I’d bank on a competitive push through the last quarter of the season and a 9th-10th slot. No playoffs, but concrete foundations on continuing to build next season… which suits me just fine, honestly. Anything but where we were in ’11.

  • vtsunrise

    The schedule is cruel from March through season-end. Of the 24 games, 10 are Home, with many challenging games. These include:
    The Suns could go 4-6.
    On the road, they play: GSW, LAC, BKL, MIN, LAL. SAS, DAL among others. They will have a hard time.

    I originally had them 5-19 through that stretch. Maybe they could play .400 ball against all those tough opponents. It’s a long season. Who knows? At least they’re playing with heart.