PHOENIX — The Suns didn’t play too poorly during a hectic first 12 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs, but they still looked unsteady and trailed 23-19 after the first quarter. Phoenix was down Leandro Barbosa, who was out with a sprained toe, and so Jeff Hornacek turned to Ish Smith as a sub nine minutes into the game.
San Antonio scored the first bucket of the second period before the Suns rattled off 19 straight points, and Smith had a lot to do with the sudden ignition. San Antonio was short in depth without Tony Parker, and the Spurs certainly looked as if they’d played the last nine games away from home.
So imagine how winded the Spurs were when the blazing Smith found himself huffing and puffing.
“I got really, really tired,” he said afterward. “We heard so much about their bench — Patty, Manu, the whole bench, that’s just to name a few. The Bench Mob, we call each other. We just felt like we needed to come out as aggressors.
“I’m like Ricky Bobby,” he added. “I want to go fast. The biggest thing with us is we want to play that pace. We want to constantly push the ball. When we get stops and run, we’re pretty good.”
Holding the Spurs to 34.9 percent shooting certainly was the defense the Suns were looking for, and it helped Smith get into the open court. Nevermind that he was crashing the boards so well. Smith finished seven rebounds, a rebound behind Channing Frye for the team lead.
“I think our bigs do such a great job of boxing out, engaging (the opponents) and I come in and come of pick up and take some rebounds,” Smith said. “I don’t know if they were happy about that but it resulted in a win.”
Smith finished with a career-high 15 points, added four assists and blocked two shots to go with two steals. One of the fastest point guards in the league, and certainly one of the best at shedding defenders with a hesitation look-away move, spun around a defensive-minded point guard duo of Cory Joseph and Patty Mills in the Suns’ 106-85 win on Friday.
After the win that took Phoenix to 33-21, both Hornacek and starting point guard Goran Dragic admitted that this is why Smith had beaten out Kendall Marshall as the team’s third point guard — though financial reasons loom as well.
“I think so Kendall couldn’t guard him, he was too slow,” Dragic said. “Ish, he can get inside the paint. And when you get there, you have so many options. You can score, you can pass out. He can push the ball.”
Markieff Morris can throw himself into the fray as a big bench contributor as well.
After a sloppy start where he looked foggy and slow, a yank by Hornacek for brother Marcus Morris shook Markieff awake. He led Phoenix with 21 points while adding five boards, three steals, two blocks and most importantly, five assists.
The ball movement is improving.
The on-court chemistry is catching up to the relationships the close-knit second unit has off the court.
“We did some nice things with that in the second group, moving the ball,” Hornacek said. “On a pick-and-roll, we had one (play) where Markieff did a great job of avoiding the charge and throwing it out to, I think, Marcus for a three. The other one where Marcus cut and he got the dunk. Those are the plays we want to try to do more often. Hit the roller, make that roller make the plays.”
The Suns will never be a high assist team, not with Goran Dragic and soon, Eric Bledsoe, making their own plays off the dribble.
Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reported Friday that Bledsoe could be weeks away from a return, and that suddenly could threaten the chemistry on the court by altering rotations.
Smith could take the hit in minutes once he’s back in action, as will Archie Goodwin, who gave nine points in 14 minutes as Phoenix ran the ball down the tired Spurs’ throats. Gerald Green will be relegated to the bench once again. Barbosa’s role remains to be seen, especially in how well the offense looked with Smith taking his minutes.
But this is a happy locker room.
“This team is unbelievable. The chemistry on this team, we’re having so much fun,” Smith said. “We’re just kind of flowing and going. It’s funny because we’re just kind of playing and not knowing what’s going on or what’s happening. We’re confident but we’re really, really humble.”