Suns' growth shows with wariness after win over Pacers

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.”

And 1

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.”

  • Elviro (Italy)

    I’m really happy! Now that’s a major victory!
    This game should give us a sense of the potential of these guys!
    Very great!

  • Rengaw

    I wouldn’t be too eager to break up the wonderful chemistry the Suns have achieved this season. All these Suns players at some time in their careers have been stars of their respective teams and meshing egos into an NBA “TEAM” can be tricky if not impossible.

    I would like to offer a tribute to the Morris twins as an ever increasing strength of this team. The demeanor of these 24 year old players is exactly what championship teams need. Sure, they can be inconsistent and show their youth and lack of experience at times, but it doesn’t phase them….they just keep playing. And have you noticed how much better they are hustling and playing defense. Markieff was really getting physical with the Pacer’s big boys inside.

    I believe this game against the Pacers was one of the best defensive efforts of the year. The Sun’s coaching staff has got this team going in the right direction and playing with passion. What a joy to be a Suns fan this year.  .

  • Gary Boersma

    It looks like the suns ever since the start of the season in 2013 are making a big impact on both the EAST and West leagues in the NBA. They have come along way Thanks to their new coaching staff and recruitment of their new players. Now they just need to stay humble, keep working as a team and soon Eric Bledsoe will be back to further the teams progress and hopefully we as fans can look forward to at least a play off berth in the playoffs this year.

  • the real al

    From tanking and andrew wiggins, to early success, to playoff aspirations, to down right beating theeeee best team in the league. It amazing how fast this team has come together. Think about it, it took the Pacerd YEARS to egt to where they are right now. The Suns, in a matter of months!

    Credit sarver and babs for finally getting it right with the sam presti-esque hire of gm ryan mcdonough and a coach whos jus been an absolute stud in hornacek.

    Unreal suns fans….unreal!!!!

  • john

    I couldn’t be happier with where the franchise is right now compared to 365 days ago. I know the haters will say they should have tanked for their shot at Wiggins/Parker/Randle/Phenom X, but how well is college turning out for most of those guys? Do ANY of those guys look like locks for the #1 pick? Some of them might turn out to be NBA superstars, but I see a little bit of Michael Beasley potential just as much as I see any Derrick Rose potential in most of those guys.

    The Suns are doing the right thing. They’re hiring the right people for the front office, acquiring the right players for the court, and those players are buying into the coach’s philosophy and learning to play together. Even if this team won’t win a championship, I think THIS is the way basketball is supposed to be played, and THIS is the way teams are supposed to be built.

  • Solarion

    My only, “only”, issue was – a few times when a SUNS player hit a 3, or slam dunked, they turned to the Pacers bench and kind of snarled. IMO, I didn’t like that. Yes, you’re upset they traded you, but win with dignity and lose with grace.

    Overall a fantastic win by the team that could.

  • Pieter

    Just saw the game….(I’m from the Netherlands)OMG what a great game!!! This season the Suns are better then we expected before the season, but this good? It was almost a perfect game, (beside the freetrows, especially Dragic…) Without Eric Bledsoe….Congratulations to all the Phoenix Suns supporters!

    SUN for life!!!!

  • Foreveris2long

    John you nailed it. Play to win and do not worry about lottery picks. McD at least on paper subscribes to that theory as well. Hubie Brown talked about the Pacers and the fact none of their good players were top 5 picks in any draft. Paul George was a lottery pick (9,10 or 11) but everyone else I think was selected later in their respective drafts.

    Just my opinion but it seems while the upcoming draft is rich in talent, there are no obvious superstars. It would not surprise me if the Suns trade one of their 1st round picks in the next 2 or 3 weeks for additional talent to continue building for tomorrow with somewhat proven talent and at the same time see if the new help can help the Suns playoff run now.

    It is great to be a Suns fan.

  • Cam

    Sat down and watched the game last night. I can honestly say I’m even more excited to go see the Suns v Spurs in Phoenix next month. It will be my first NBA game (I’m 34). I’m forcing my Laker loving wife to go with me! I can’t wait.

    @Forever I just read a small article that commented on the Suns being interested in Thadeus Young. I wonder how much he would cost the Suns though, seeing at his value is at an all time high. In McMiracle we trust so who knows.

    Go Suns

  • Foreveris2long

    Cam, I like Young as a 3 who would likely get starter minutes over Tucker but I do not want Young as our power forward. IMO he is worthy of surrendering a 1st round pick. As you said we can trust McD to make the right call but I think our priority should be to find a power forward since the draft does not appear to be offering a lot of quality there this summer.Thanks for the insight on the rumor.

  • DZ

    The wild card in the Suns’ deck is Okafor and his expiring $14.5 mil contract. What can McMiracle do with that? At worst the Suns will have that $14.5 mil in cap space next season.

  • hawki

    If season ended today, the Suns would have (roughly) the 17th, 22nd & 29th picks in the draft.
    Suns would have to wait at least another year to get the under-achieving TWolves pick.

    Joel Embiid, the 7 foot freshman from Kansas is now the consensus #1 pick.

    It seems likely the Suns would like to package picks & try to move up but that is always easier said than done…..but if anyone can do it, McD can.

    Will Bledsoe come back in time for the Suns to make some kind of miracle (remember that EBJM) playoff run like they did in 1976?

    Not counting the Inaugural season, the Suns have won less than 30 games only 4 times in their history….the 1st 3 times they came back to win 50 or more….going into this season I didn’t think they could do it after last season’s 25 wins….but they just might & with Bledsoe they definitely would have.

    ps….Pieter, nice to see a fan from The Netherlands….maybe it’s the Orange :)

  • JeffT

    Cap space relief next year is even better than just Okafor’s $14.5M. They will also save $2.9M from Beasley’s buy-out. As you recall, Beasely was to be paid $4.67 this year and an additional $2.3M spread over the next three years after, at $776K per year. I believe now that his vet min contract with Miami is guaranteed at just over $1M, the suns pay only $3.67 to Beasely this year.

    Next year when Beaz’ suns salary drops to $776K, it will result in cap savings of $2.9M. If the Suns leveraged all their potential cap savings along with Okafor’s and Beasley’s, they could clear about $20M. Then they need to negotiate who, if any, they want to bring back on expiring deals from Kratsov, Tucker, I. Smith, and X-Mas.

    Raises for players under contract for next year are only about $3.5M. They will be in good shape with cap space. Just need to conduct cost-benie analysis. Who can they lure here and sign as UFA? Make a trade this year or next? How much for Bledsoe? How much will Tucker want and will it be at a cost that makes sense? Same with I. Smith and X-mas.

  • Rengaw

    I don’t believe the Sun’s brass wants to utilize the teams accumulated draft picks on drafting more young players. The have enough to develop as is.

    With money to spend, lots of draft picks to trade with, and Channing Frye, they can acquire a quality player who gives them big minutes right now.

    A player the Suns may want to court is Jeff Green from Boston. Good multitalented guy who plays hard and can guard talented scorers. Boston needs draft picks.

  • sunsn7

    As soon as I began reading and scrolling down, I knew it was a Zimmerman article.

    Nice work.

  • sunsn7

    …and yes Goran, “they” WILL be ready for us.

    GO SUNS!

  • Pieter

    @Hawki: yes lol, I alway felt a connection with the suns, and then I saw the beatiful new special orange kit last friday, It was briljant, If I had watched that game live (sadly, 3 am for me….), I would post a picture of myself wearing my suns hoody and some dutch football stuff (orange) for that instagram match/stuff that you see every suns game :p

  • Foreveris2long

    Just read that Goodwin is going to play two games in the D-League before traveling with the Suns to Cleveland. It should be a good experience for him.

  • Robert

    Great game! The Pacers were clearly in a daze though.

    If the season ends with teams in the standings as they are right now, what first round picks would the Suns get in this year’s draft?

  • Robert

    Oh, sorry dudes, I missed the previous post, we are on the same wavelength (I’m just a little slower…).

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