PHOENIX — For the Phoenix Suns to impose their will on the best team in the league and a defensive-minded one at that is a big deal. It was a nice story for Jeff Hornacek’s squad to win 124-100 against the Indiana Pacers and get big contributions from two former Pacers, Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green. That was also significant.
So was Phoenix shooting 54.2 percent from the floor against the NBA’s best defense, hitting 11-of-16 threes against the league’s best three-point defense, outscoring Indiana 28-5 in fastbreak points and recording just 10 turnovers to the Pacers’ 21, which led to 27 points off turnovers on Wednesday at U.S. Airways Center.
Yet, the lesson afterward wasn’t much about the above.
What the Suns did to the Pacers is what the Suns don’t want lesser teams to do to them.
In the locker room afterward, you could sense the Suns didn’t know the meaning of their win, one that moved them to 24-17 at the halfway point of the season, the same mark the 2009-10 squad hit at the halfway point before its run to the Western Conference Finals. The ESPN-televised broadcast didn’t feel like it changed anything for the Suns, whose locker room felt rather ho-hum compared to past wins, say, against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“We should play like that every game,” Goran Dragic warned after he cruised to 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting against the NBA’s best defense. “Like coach said, not because the game is on TNT or because we’re playing the best team in the league.”
Doesn’t Goran know TNT only picks up Thursday games?
Here’s where the Suns are learning to pump the breaks. Fans should, too, at least a little bit.
Indiana didn’t look ‘on.’ The Pacers were pushed out of the paint. David West’s and Luis Scola’s low-post shouldering didn’t batter the Suns mentally. Instead, the Suns drew charges and fouls while making Indiana the team spinning out of control thanks to Joey Crawford’s whistles. It was the Suns jabbering to the Pacers bench that stood out — Indiana didn’t look engaged as it has consistently done against, say, the Miami Heat, and its players never responded when it seemed like they’d wake up from all the Suns’ yapping.
When the game was over, it was the Suns seeming as cool about one win as the Pacers were about one loss.
“We just have to be consistent,” said former Pacers guard Gerald Green, who lit up his old team for 23 points. “We still just got to stay humble, continue to work, continue to ask questions of the coaches of what we need to do defensively, offensively. We just got to continue to play together, too. It’s good we’re able to protect the home court.”
Jeff Hornacek’s tweaks seemed to have worked.
Like Rick Carlisle did to Phoenix by forcing mismatches in the second half of last week’s loss to the Mavericks, Hornacek did to Vogel. He held the bench unit card in his hand through the first half when only eight players played, then revealed Ish Smith once the Pacers began pecking away in the third quarter. Throughout, Hornacek stuck the Pacers’ lumbering centers to deal with 5-men Channing Frye and Markieff Morris, who were moving and launching three-pointers.
Green said the offense didn’t do anything special and that “the ball just went in the hole.” Vogel agreed in a way.
“Limited them to 16 attempts and most of them contested but they made 11 of them,” the Pacers coach said.
It was a sign the Phoenix ball movement and shot selection was exceptional. It was a sign they’ve learned how to trust one another against the best competition, even if it was a down night for Indy.
It’s not far from how Indiana approaches things philosophically, though the teams’ goals are obviously quite different.
“The No. 1 word that went on the board, Day 1 of training camp: ‘sacrifice,'” Vogel said prior to the game. “Everybody here on this team is capable of carrying a heavier load they’re going to carry this year. The value of individual sacrifice to enhance the team’s success is what this year is all about.”
Now, the Suns know what they can do without Eric Bledsoe and without Dragic carrying a heavy burden.
“You get a great group of guys, you have great chemistry. If you have this, you can have success in this league,” Dragic said before issuing another warning.
“In one week, we’re going back to their place and probably they’re going to be ready for us.”
Vogel on losing Miles Plumlee in the trade: “We drafted him knowing he would be this player. We didn’t want to give him up. We really didn’t. We would have been happy just to gotten out of it to get Luis with a pick.”