PHOENIX – Ish Smith dunked. Had the 6-foot, third-string Phoenix Suns guard not had to compete with one of the best dunkers in the NBA, it might’ve been the most fun moment of the night in Phoenix’s 116-100 win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
Smith lost the entertaining play of the game honors because Gerald Green dunked a lot. He had two windmill slams and one so wide open on a breakaway that all he could think to do was throw it straight at the floor. The starting shooting guard for the time being because of Eric Bledsoe’s injury led the Suns with 24 points, going 9-for-14 overall and 4-for-7 from three.
Green and Smith have adopted a next-man-up mentality that has Phoenix looking good, and it’s clear from the locker room setup the new bench mob has a bit of chemistry. It’s been customary for Smith, Dionte Christmas, Archie Goodwin, and the Morris twins to start a ruckus following wins, especially.
“Cause’ we’re around the same age, we all just kind of have fun, joke around,” Smith said. “From hair cuts, from shots – whatever it is – we’re super competitive in everything. On the bench, we always constantly cheering for the next man, and when somebody goes down, we hate injuries, but we know it’s next man up.”
“It’s a different mentality,” he said of starting. “Before it was kind of, ‘Ish go get’em,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, shucks.’ Like, I’m sitting on my hands. I can still get better. I still wasn’t happy with my performance.”
With Bledsoe out, Smith made it A-OK that starting point guard Goran Dragic played less than 30 minutes. True, it came against the lowly Bucks, but it was good with a five-game road trip upcoming. Playing four games in five nights during the trip, Phoenix will need Smith and his growing confidence to produce.
“Try to play (the starters) all 36, 38, 40 minutes a game – games 3 and 4 you might as well cash it in,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Dragic knows first-hand how tricky it’s been for Smith to sit behind himself and Bledsoe. The Dragon also knows how many problems Smith causes. Even with Dragic’s speed, the quirkiness in how his backup moves is troublesome.
“For me personally, I don’t like to guard small people,” Dragic said. “It’s tough for me. The most important thing of what he’s got – he brings intensity at every practice. When you have these kind of guys around you, it makes the practice better.”
Smith and Green will be relied upon with Bledsoe being out at least a week. That could keep the starting guard out of the first three games of the road swing – against Chicago, Minnesota and Memphis. His return depends on another examination, meaning the Jan. 11 Detroit and Jan. 13 New York games could be potential return dates if all goes well.
As well as Smith played on Saturday, it was easy being Green. Milwaukee coach Larry Drew went with a zone defense for long stretches, and the Suns were ready. Channing Frye took the most advantage, hitting 6-of-9 from range. He said the team hardly skips a beat with Green in the starting lineup, and the two three-point gunners complement one another well – against that zone, they certainly did that.
“Gerald comes in and I tell him it’s a little different,” Frye said. “You can’t be – I’m going to use the word reckless – he’s free-spirited with the first group. I’m telling him, man, the way he shoots the ball and the way he can literally jump outside of the stadium is something we can take advantage (of). Let’s use you to your strength and keep it simple.
“He’s been fun to play with.”
Bucks spar in locker room
Missed this while covering the Suns locker room, but apparently Milwaukee’s team chemistry is not quite where Phoenix’s is. From the AP’s Bob Baum:
Nasty confrontation between Larry Sanders, Gary Neal in Bucks locker room. Neal as he left: “I earn my money. You should try it sometime.''
— Robert Baum (@Thebaumerphx) January 5, 2014
O.J. Mayo, acting like the grownup in the room, called Bucks run-in “a little Kumbayah moment.''
— Robert Baum (@Thebaumerphx) January 5, 2014
Jeff Hornacek on Archie Goodwin, who was pushed around a bit by O.J. Mayo in the second half: “Guys in this league tend to like to play against rookies because they know they’re not going to get a lot of calls. Once he gets past his rookie year, they might call some fouls on some of those pushoffs. He just has to be more physical with guys and know what type of guys they are. Gary Neal is a three-point shooter and he’s sitting, holding the ball – he’s obviously holding the ball waiting for a guy to come set a screen so he come off, one dribble, shoot it. He’ll learn some of those things.”