Suns 3-point defense finds answers against 76ers

PHOENIX — With their third-best three-point defense in the league, the Phoenix Suns had room for concern in the first six quarters following a four-day break. The Golden State Warriors hit 8-of-20 from deep against the Suns, though that’s reasonable considering their strengths.

But the Philadelphia 76ers?

“Before the game we were talking, they were a poor shooting team,” point guard Goran Dragic said. “Go under every screen. Tonight they made their shots.”

Phoenix allowed their Saturday night opponent to hit 9-of-16 first-half threes, and Philly was right in it with a 60-59 score heading into the break of what would become a 115-101 win for the Suns. Coming out of halftime, the Suns seemed ill fit to make any changes. P.J. Tucker switched onto red-hot point guard Michael Carter-Williams, but he went under a screen — as directed — in the first minute of play as the rookie hit a straight-away bomb. Thirty-seven seconds later, Thaddeus Young added another triple, and all of a sudden it was a game.

Really, it wasn’t.

Philadelphia would miss its final 11 three-point attempts.

The Sixers came into the game third-to-last in the league by hitting 32.7 percent of their long shots. Phoenix was the third-best team by allowing just 32.8 percent. In the end, that trend evened out despite the 76ers starting off 11-of-18.

“Obviously, our defensive assignments were to go behind (the screen) but even when we go behind you are still supposed to go up, you’re not just supposed to give them the shots,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.

And once the three-ball stopped dropping, it was all over for the Sixers. Phoenix heated up in the fourth quarter behind Marcus Morris going 3-for-6 behind the arc and scoring 11 of his 18 total points as the Suns stretched out a 88-81 lead after three. But that seven-point lead was also thanks to defense at the rim.

As it has been in the last several games, Miles Plumlee was a stellar rim-protecting big man who only looked bad by failing to cover two threes by Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes in the first half. And, you know, it’s hard to imagine Hawes takes four threes a game and shoots 43 percent on the year.

Not only was Plumlee a force on the boards, finishing with 13 rebounds, or a presence at the cup by recording three blocks. He was a go-to offensive weapon for Hornacek, whose Suns were struggling to hit shots as they did a night prior.

“We want to go in there to him,” Hornacek said. “We weren’t shooting the ball well either so we were trying to get the ball into him a little more.”

The second-year pro left the game in the second half to receive seven stitches on his chin after falling on a blocked shot.

“That block I went for, my feet came out from under me and I fell down, just busted it open,” Plumlee said after returning to close out the game.

The Suns held the Sixers to 38.9 percent shooting for the game, and the defensive switch of Tucker on Carter-Williams wore down the slender rookie point guard, who against Tucker could only hit 3-of-10 shots in a forced third quarter.

In the end, the three-point defense seemed to find itself, although it’s an expectation against the 76ers.

“I don’t think we played a great game tonight,” Hornacek said. “We got to get better. We have any hopes of making the playoffs, we’ve got to buckle it up. I think our positions, I think we were sloppy in the first half. We had balls being knocked out of our hands, we had turnovers.”

The Suns finished with 21 turnovers leading to 27 points. But unlike a year ago, a very flawed game resulting in a win is not something to complain about.

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