PHOENIX – Discounting a select few games, Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has wondered why his team doesn’t run. The odd but likely answer is that they, outside of Goran Dragic, simply don’t know how.
In a 115-101 win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, it was clear Phoenix would fall into the mode of pushing back against the fastest team in the NBA, but not many would have suspected the biggest difference would come from Suns center Miles Plumlee. The second-year pro scored a career-high 22 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and added three blocks as the Suns raced their way past a team they were supposed to be struggling with along the bottom of the league totem pole.
Instead, Phoenix improved to 18-11 on the year and to 9-3 in the month of December. Aside from the harassment by rookie Michael Carter-Williams, the Suns rebounded from a 115-86 loss to the Golden State Warriors just a night prior.
And though there were more troubling signs that also had popped up against the Warriors – poor defense at the point guard spot and bad three-point defense – Phoenix closed out the fourth quarter looking like the veteran club they think they are. By no means was a pretty, but in this league, take what you can.
Off to the answering of questions from Ryan Weisert’s game preview.
Will the 76ers run Phoenix off the floor?
Jeff Hornacek hinted before tip against the Sixers that playing against a fast team would only be good for the Suns, who have shown they can run with up-tempo teams but have failed to push it against slower opponents.
By the end of the third quarter, Phoenix led 88-81 and had scored a bucket more than they did in four quarters on Friday against the Warriors.
Phoenix’s transition defense was quite impressive considering the speed of the Sixers, and Philly found most success scoring on three-pointers early in the shotclock. The 76ers went 11-for-29 from three-point range and at halftime had knocked down 9-of-16.
Can the Suns keep it close in the paint?
Plumlee hit all but one of his seven first-quarter shot attempts, easily getting post position on Spencer Hawes and flipping jump hooks over the top of the Sixers’ center. The Suns center put in 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks in the first 12 minutes, and Markieff Morris ended the first on a tip-in off a missed P.J. Tucker free throw that gave Phoenix a 36-27 advantage heading to the second quarter.
By the end of the game, the Suns won the points in the paint battle 58-50.
Who will put the team on their shoulders after a very forgettable performance?
Aside from Plumlee’s impact on the offensive game that kept the Suns’ offense afloat when the shots weren’t falling, both Dragic and Bledsoe, who scored 20, made decent recoveries from their poor performances against the Warriors and their talented backcourt.
Dragic scored 21 points to with with five assists despite looking hobbled with his leg injury suffered Friday – he seemed to have trouble stopping on his left leg. Bledsoe had his issues defending Carter-Williams, who had 16 first-half points, but it wasn’t an issue once Hornacek switched Tucker onto the rookie point guard in the second half.
Carter-Williams hit close to 50 percent (7-of-15) of his shots in the first half but went 5-for-13 in the second half. He had 27 points, six dimes and four steals.
Dragic especially took a mental note of some elbows and an edgy ending to the first half with Carter-Williams. In the third quarter, he jumped passing lanes and put the Sixers on their heels as he and Bledsoe found their aggression to combine for 15 in the period.
Marcus Morris was the bench juice Phoenix needed, pouring in 18.