The ever-surprising Phoenix Suns just eclipsed their win total from last season – in late January. Their hard fought 124-113 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers was their second road win in two nights and a pretty perfect allegory for their season thus far. The Suns started fast, struggled in the middle, and put their foot back on the gas at the end to secure a win.
Phoenix dropped 40 points in the first quarter, stunning the home team. The Suns shot 77% from the floor, threw down four dunks, and set the tone early for what would be a very dominant performance with just a few minor lapses thrown in for spice. While Philly scrapped in the middle periods trying to make a game of it, the Suns, with the help of Goran Dragic and Gerald Green, slammed the door shut on any comeback hopes in the fourth.
Green and Dragic were lights out in this game. The Dragon had 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Not to be outdone, Green poured in 30 points, making this the eighth straight time Phoenix has come out victorious when Green goes for 20 points of more. The pair were a perfect 10-for-10 in that electric first quarter. Green’s first miss was actually a blown dunk in transition that would have melted down the building and been a serious contender for Dunk of the Year had it gone through the net. For the game, Goran and Gerald combined to shoot 7-of-9 from downtown and dished out nine assists between them. Dragic picked up three steals while Green had three of Phoenix’s season-high 12 blocks.
Phoenix’s defense was stellar in the early parts of this game, and good enough down the stretch to get a win. The Suns protected the rim extremely well and were physical at every position each time the 76ers penetrated. This forced Philly to settle for jumpers and helped the Suns build a double-digit lead. They played solid transition defense, holding the Sixers to just seven fast break points in the first half. While the starters played with an admirable amount of energy, the bench seemed a bit more tired, and their defensive lapses allowed Philly to stay in the game.
It’s possible the homecoming pressure got to the Morris twins. Marcus had just four points in 23 minutes. Markieff had a quality night with 13 points, three assists, three rebounds, and four blocks. But he could have had much bigger night. His defensive woes got him in foul trouble and forced him to sit more than usual of the second half.
Overall, the Suns stifled and frustrated their opponents who shot just 41% from the field in the first three quarters and were whistled for three technical fouls over the course of the night. Phoenix led from wire-to-wire. The 76ers finished the game with 19 turnovers. If not for their unbelievable performance at the line (24-of-25) Philadelphia might have gotten embarrassed in this one. For more analysis, let’s answer our three preview questions.
Can the Suns win the third quarter?
Yes but it was the opposite of a moral victory. The third period was U-G-L-Y. It had absolutely no alibi. After a physical first half, the officials whistled 22 personal fouls in the third which led to 31 free throws between the two teams. Philly turned the ball over nine times, while the Suns coughed up five of their own. Overall, the twelve-minute quarter took over 40 minutes of real time to play. It was a slog-fest, but the Suns kept their wits about them and increased their lead to 13 points heading into the final period. The key for the Suns was defensive rebounding. The Sixers grabbed 10 offensive boards in the first half, but were held to just one in the third. The steadying force for the Suns in the quarter was P.J. Tucker who put up nine points, got to the free throw line six times, and was an absolute force in transition. The Suns scored 13 of their 24 fast break points in the third. Tucker finished the night with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Can the Suns limit the Philadelphia to just one big night?
Last time out against the Suns, Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young combined for more than 50 points. This time around, Phoenix held them in check relatively speaking. The pair had only 13 points in the first half, though Phoenix’s lax defense down the stretch allowed them to finish the game with 43 points combined. Phoenix did a much better job forcing Young out of the paint in this game. The Suns frontcourt players limited Young to just two rebounds on the night. While MCW had 11 assists and finished with a double-double, he was just 7-of-19 from the floor. He and Young padded their stats a bit in the fourth after Gerald Green caught fire with eight straight points to put the game out of reach.
Will Goran Dragic have a noise-making performance?
After starting 6-of-6 for 15 points, it certainly looked like the Dragon was ready to take flight, but Coach Hornacek smartly limited him to just 32 minutes not wanting to put too much strain on his star point guard in the middle of another four games in five nights stretch. Dragic would have had a double-double in this one, but at least five times the recipient of his pass was fouled while shooting a layup, sending them to the line, but withholding a dime everyone’s favorite Slovenian. Dragic’s performance won’t make Sportscenter’s Top 10 tonight, but it’s yet another in a long line of stellar nights he can add to his All Star credentials. There are few point guards in the NBA who are playing as efficiently both in the paint and beyond the arc as Dragic is this year. He is putting up real numbers on a contending team, and he deserves more than a passing look for a reserve spot in New Orleans.
- Alex Len showed some impressive footwork in this one. He ran the pick and roll effectively, and had a nifty up-and-under post move for an emphatic dunk. He can still do more to be in the right position on defense and take better care of the ball, but he has shown some real improvement since returning from injury.
- Miles Plumlee also had a terrific game offensively. He posted another double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. Plumlee’s only offensive woes came when he was left all alone with the ball at the top of the key. Every one of those possessions yielded either an ugly turnover or a badly missed jumper. Defensively, Plumlee left Spencer Hawes open a few too many times and recorded no blocks. He did, however, step to the line and make both free throws for the first time in what feels like a month.
- Ish Smith had two phenomenal blocked shots. I had no idea he had those kind of hops.