Many times this year, it’s seemed like how Jeff Hornacek handles the Phoenix Suns’ rotation boldly indicates what he thinks of the opponents. Against the league-best Indiana Pacers, the rotation was short and veteran-laden until the Suns were desperate to change the pace.
Against the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, Hornacek wasn’t shy about diving deep into his bench with a game at Indiana set for Thursday night.
Phoenix didn’t need Goran Dragic and the starters to play lengthy minutes in a 126-117 win in Milwaukee. Dragic needed 24 minutes to score 30 points and doll out six dimes. Gerald Green played a team-high 30 minutes and put in 23 as he combined with Dragic to shoot 16-for-26 and hit four three-pointers each.
Ten players hit 20 or more minutes for Hornacek as he carefully toed the line of controlling the game but resting up his starting unit.
Milwaukee used a 16-5 run to end the second quarter after Phoenix built a 23-point lead, its largest to that point. With the Suns holding a 62-50 lead at halftime, the Bucks clawed even closer. Halfway through the third quarter they climbed within six points, and then within five after the first minute of the fourth.
Dragic certainly didn’t come out completely unscathed in an efficient effort.
A hard foul late in the game saw him knock his elbow on the floor, but a minute later he drilled a three at the buzzer with three minutes left that gave the Suns a 119-106 lead that finally seemed to be the dagger — he scored 13 in a row late to make it 124-110 and out of reach.
It was both a victory for the team but also in terms of development. Rookie Alex Len hit double-digit rebounding for the first time of his career, grabbing 10 rebounds to go with seven points. His plus-11 plus/minus score for the game was third on the team behind Dragic’s plus-20 and Channing Frye’s plus-14, a sign of just how much he was affecting shots at the rim.
Wednesday also became important in lubricating the gears of the Morris twins, who combined for 29 points and five assists on 50 percent shooting. Their production will be extremely important come Thursday.
Now, to answer some pregame questions posed by Jeff Sanders.
How do the Suns start?
Channing Frye nailed three early shots as the Suns got off cookin’ like they did against the Sixers. Phoenix hit 8-of-11 to start the first quarter and induced a Milwaukee timeout 1:20 into the game, which was a bit longer than the timeout called by Philadelphia after Phoenix’s first possession in its last game, but quick nonetheless.
More impressively, the Suns’ defense was just as effective as their offense. They allowed Philadelphia to get into a rhythm two days ago, but on Wednesday Milwaukee found itself behind 28-19 after shooting 29.2 percent to Phoenix’s 55 percent in the first quarter.
In general, you could fault Phoenix for allowing Milwaukee to keep pushing back, just as the Sixers did two nights earlier. But it is important to note that came as a result of Hornacek trusting that he could give his younger players solid minutes and still get the win.
Does Marcus Morris make a dent in the stat sheet?
He did in the first half, and it certainly helped that his big brother got into some early foul trouble. Morris got hot to score 12 first-half points, and he also added three rebounds but from there on out was relatively quiet. Markieff got hot in the second half, scoring all 13 of his points after the break.
Does Giannis Antetokounmpo contribute more the second time around, and does he score a point?
Antetokounmpo missed his first attempt, a dunk and also missed a slashing layup soon after. He finished 2-for-7 to score six points and also added four assists, which was a tad bit better than his donut against the Suns in the teams’ first meeting this year.
Irsan Ilyasova led Milwaukee with 27 points and scored 10 points at the foul stripe, and Brandon Knight added 24 points and eight assists. But after scoring 16 points by halftime, the Bucks’ starting point guard shot 1-for-7 in the second half.