Cleveland Cavaliers 110, Phoenix Suns 101 -- Rock and rolled

PHOENIX — The Cleveland Cavaliers have made a habit of late when it comes to building big leads against the Phoenix Suns — 20 and 26 points respectively back in Jan. 2014 and Nov. 2013.

Wednesday night’s non-conference affair was no different inside US Airways Center, except for one small detail: the Eastern Conference bottom feeder didn’t let this one slip through their hands.

Spencer Hawes scored 17 of Cleveland’s 37 points in the opening quarter en route to an early, sizable, 15-point advantage. Guard Kyrie Irving was his usual All-Star self with a game-high 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists. And the Cavaliers, who despite seeing their double-digit lead trimmed to as little as two in the third quarter, survived for a wire-to-wire 110-101 victory — their first since the beginning of March.

“They looked like the team that was trying to get into the playoffs,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We looked like the team that just wanted to play a basketball game. We told the guys that after the game. It sounds like a broken record.

“If you let a team score 37 points in the first quarter on your court, they’re going to be hard to stop the rest of the night. If they get their confidence, they can beat you. It’s not like we crushed them in Cleveland. We got killed in the first quarter but happened to make a bunch of three-point shots to get back in the game and pull it out.”

Unlike their 99-90 comeback in Cleveland back on Jan. 26, the Suns couldn’t make up for their woeful lapses that highlighted much of Wednesday’s affair.

The Cavaliers, who came as the worst-ranked shooting team in the league, scored the nets from distance, knocking down 12-of-24 attempts – one off a season-high. Mike Brown’s squad also dominated the boards (51 to 36) and scored 27 second-chance points.

Even when the outcome still appeared to be in doubt during the Suns’ 30-point push in the third quarter, a poor close out, a botched fast break attempt or a missed box out kept the notion of a win at a distance for the home side.

Credit Cleveland for its effort, but Hornacek admitted that it was clear Phoenix was certainly lacking some of its heart and soul without starting small forward P.J. Tucker, who was suspended for the contest.

“Obviously, not having our emotional and physical leader in P.J. hurt us,” said Hornacek. “With all of the loose balls, maybe somebody gets them. It was right from the first play of the game…the ball bounces loose and we took a little stab at it, but that was about it. They got to them quicker.”

Lost in less-than-stellar defeat was the return of Eric Bledsoe, who certainly delighted at times to the tune of 15 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes of action.

“I felt great for the most part,” Bledsoe said. “I just tried to come in and fit in with the team playing so well.”

Unfortunately for Bledsoe, his return and fit back into the lineup didn’t seem to spark his team from its recent wayward play.

But onto Jeff Sanders’ three pre-game questions:

How does Bledsoe look?

After a hiatus lasting 1,598 minutes and 21 seconds, Eric Blesdoe’s highly-anticipated return lived up to the hype. Not necessarily from a production standpoint, although he nearly finished with a double-double, but it was a welcomed sight to see the first-year Sun not limited by any sort of tangible restrictions.

The burst was there. The vision was there. The intensity at the defensive end was there. But so too was the rust.

Bledsoe played 33 total minutes, including eight straight to begin the third quarter and 10 straight to end the night. The fourth-year guard did a lot of really nice things. His first pass led to a reverse dunk by Miles Plumlee. His first points came on a beautiful drive past Hawes down the right side of the lane. His most impressive two came off a long rebound and full-court drive to the basket.

In between, he dished out nine assists, including several to set up easy looks for Channing Frye and Marcus and Markieff Morris.

“I’m going to go rest and get treatment,” said Bledsoe, who admitted his legs were pretty sore after his first live action in over two months. “Practice isn’t like the game. But it isn’t any bad soreness. Just a little bit tired.”

It showed at times.

The 24-year-old exhibited signs of rust with his shot — hit just five of 16 attempts — and missed a few makeable looks in the paint, but all in all, Jeff Hornacek and Co. have to be thrilled with what they saw out of Bledsoe.

How does the new starting lineup look?

Which one?

Due to P.J. Tucker’s one-game suspension, Marcus Morris was thrust into the starting five for the first time in 2013-14 and 24th time in his career.

Morris, who entered the game with a career-high six straight performances with double-digit scoring, finished with 14 points and three rebounds, but those numbers largely came playing alongside his brother and the second unit.

Four minutes and 21 seconds into the evening, the Suns found themselves already trailing 11-5, so Hornacek pulled the third-year forward.

The first-year head coach elected instead to run Bledsoe alongside Goran Dragic and Gerald Green, but that lineup didn’t yield any better results, as the Cavaliers’ lead ballooned to nine. The Morris twins reunited to end the frame, but the bleeding didn’t exactly stop.

In the second half, Hornacek went back to the Bledsoe-Dragic-Green dynamic, but a rough opening minute-and-a-half from the latter member of the trio forced Marcus Morris back into the game.

Green finished with his first single-digit scoring performance (8 points on 2-of-7 shooting) since Feb. 4, and quite frankly it didn’t seem to matter what lineup adjustments were made. Very little worked for the Suns in the nine-point loss.

Can the Cavs defend the three?

The Cavaliers gave up 10 three-point shots in the win, though no real fault of their own. While Frye and Marcus Morris knocked down a few that went uncontested, for the most part perimeter defense wasn’t a big issue. Allowing 10 from downtown was more a product of Phoenix’s 36 attempts than it was Cleveland’s charitable defensive effort.

If there was a major defensive problem on the night, it came from the Suns. Coming in, Phoenix was ranked No. 2 in the league in three-point defense. Such noteworthy perimeter defense could not be found Wednesday, however, as Dion Waiters, Hawes, Irving and Luol Deng had no problem raining in triple after triple. While Cleveland cooled down from beyond the arc over the final 24 minutes, an 8-for-10 effort in the first half proved to be more than enough.

Tags: Eric Bledsoe Jeff Hornacek Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap

  • bill_thomas

    If Ryan McDonough was trying to “just miss” the playoffs, he has done a GREAT JOB !!!!!!!!

    SAYONARA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    It doesnt matter how Bledsoe plays if the Suns shoot 36 3s and make 10, make 59 percent of their free throws, and get out rebounded, 36 to 51

    Coach Hornacek has to consider playing Len and Plumlee together at some point, i mean come on, its not like Frye is our only threat from the 3 point line, and we just get killed on the boards.

    Frye needs to take a page out of Markieffs playbook and shoot less 3s and stay closer to the basket

    6 rebounds in 36 minutes isnt gonna get it done, heck Len had that total rebounds in only 19 minutes.

    i dont want to sound negative, Markeiff played great

    Golden State lost

    Dragic and Bledsoe looked fine

    Plumlee had 9 points and 10 boards in a foul plagued game

    If you want to make the playoffs you gotta win these games

  • bill_thomas

    “We looked like a team that was just trying to play a basketball game”. Bring on the hush puppies and the high-end delivery pizzas.

    Hell, bring back Marshall and Beasely and drop Dragic and Markieff. It is what the city of Phoenix deserves.

  • Rengaw

    OK, the halo has slipped a little off the Sun’s head. Tonight poor shooting by Frye, Green, and Bledsoe along with some poor defense in the first quarter.

    Just for a couple games, I would like to see Markieff start ahead of Frye. What could it hurt? I would think Markieff posting up would free up some of the other Suns for open looks. AND, maybe it would improve our offensive rebounding which is atrocious save for Tucker.

  • bill_thomas

    Yeah, just for a couple of games, let’s bring Frye off the bench. I have stuck to him until now, but let’s try something different.

  • DBreezy

    They just haven’t been mentally up for the challenge of this part of the season and it’s likely to cost them. The front court is going to be a major offseason issue as it’s clear that the game plan is to attack the Suns there, be it inside or outside.

  • Luka

    Let me first start by saying, this doesn’t come as much surprise to me. I’m pissed off watching it unfold, but I’m not surprised. The Suns haven’t been playing well since all-star break. I said if McDonough didn’t pull off a trade they wouldn’t make it and it’s starting to look like the case.

    Spencer Hawes, and Thad Young were players I wanted the Suns to get. Hawes would’ve solved a lot of problems the Suns had in the half court, and would’ve been a major upgrade over offensive deadweight Plumlee. Hawes is not only a great floor spacer but an adept passer. I was laughing my ass off when he scored on the Suns taking the ball length of the floor.

    Frye and Markieff are pitiful IMO. No fundamentals between them. They can’t post up. They don’t box out. Can’t defend. Can’t rebound for shit. They are a severe detriment to the team.

    Hornacek meanwhile needs to do his job and bench Frye, and go with a smaller line-up. This foolishness has to stop. Plumlee, Tucker, Green, Dragic, Bledsoe. Get Archie Goodwin back in the rotation.

  • bill_thomas

    We lost it BC the front O did not get the right players. The right players were available from Philly for a song!

    Canonize McDonough, he is so brilliant. I do not see his game. Either get the players from Philly or go full TANK, he has done neither, he is in the middle.

  • bill_thomas

    Right on more Archie. I bet he can guard PF’s.

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  • foreveris2long

    To work so hard all year and give it away with a terrible performance at home against the lowly Cavs, is troublesome to say the least. I can live with an off night shooting but poor free throw shooting, lack of rebounding and lackluster defensive effort is inexcusable. Looks like we will be reserving that table in the lottery room.

  • Dave:f32

    I saw a comment that the Suns are 2-4 since releasing Slava!

    McD shouldnt have shaken the egg basket so close to the playoffs.

    For all the McD accolades he has made some drops of the proverbial ball since he went to the Valley. One that stands out is drafting an injured and unproven Len with the 5th pick last year.

    Hope he isnt planning on making those kinds of mistakes with this years draft…

  • ward

    I don’t think Phoenix needs to panic yet. OKC had the same problem (they lost) when Westbrook first got back.
    Bledsoe and Dragic still had a good game, I see Phoenix not looking back, and getting a lot of wins going forward…

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    Name me a player we should have taken ahead of Len

    we already had Bledsoe and Dragic so carter williams isnt gonna get any time

    Oladipo went #2

    Tim Hardaway junior went i think #24

    Nerlens Noel hasnt played a game

    Until proven otherwise, i think we made the right draft choices this year, and you cant blame the teams performance on Len or Goodwin, they didnt even play

    Besides, do Suns fans really want to see a Suns team to just barely squeak into the playoffs and get destroyed in 4 games?

    Cause even if they made it, it doesnt look like they would give a higher seed much trouble, the way they have been playing since the all star break

  • sunsn7

    “Rock and Rolled”??

    More like FOLD and Rolled. From here on out no matter what, Archie Goodwin and Alex Len need to get consistent minutes. Archie always brings high energy, has a confidence that belies his youth, and for his age never seems to make big mistakes, plays within himself for the most part. He deserves minutes on THIS Suns squad.

    Same goes for Len, he needs to be in the rotation. He has a bit of a tough edge to his game, he just needs more confidence gained with consistent minutes. His offensive game will come along with Dragic and Bledsoe’s duo dribble penetration. Defensively he needs to gain confidence with his on court communication, court awareness..and he will, without a doubt.

    Frye needs to lose his spot in the rotation. I’d like to see the following lineup for a stretch during the game to see how it works:

    C – Alex Len
    PF- Miles Plumlee
    SF- Gerald Green
    SG- Goran Dragic/ Eric Bledsoe
    PG – Eric Bledsoe/ Goran Dragic

    My point is as a longtime Suns fan, I am more than willing to sacrifice some offense for some defensive toughness. Suns fans want more than TOKEN RESISTANCE defensively, especially considering the magnitude of these games from here on out.

    And whether or not they make the playoffs isn’t too big of a deal to me and already accepted a low lottery/ mid first round pick around Christmas time. But for these YOUNG SUNS (ahem! Archie/ Len..) playing in games of this importance, the signifigance can’t be understated.

  • sunsn7

    Dave32…the release of Slava is the reason the Suns have gone 2-4 since?

    Not even entertaining that as a factor. And if you’ve given up on Len already, he’s gonna make you eat your words someday in the not-too-distant future..and make McDonough look like a basketball genius.

    I originally wanted Oladipo. Once he was off the board I thought McClemore was coming here. I was underwhelmed to say the least when they left Noels on the board and drafted Len.

    But since then I admit to changing my mind about Len. The fact that he’s willing to whack an opposing big man going to the basket earns BIG points with Suns fans. As a former Robin Lopez supporter, the Suns will be making an even bigger mistake if they give up on young Len before he even matures physically..and mentally.

  • nuncmeister

    My mouth popped open – and stayed open – as The Suns’ rebounders continually tapped balls off the glass to waiting opposing teams.

    Go after the damned ball, guys.

    Coaches might do well to suggest this to the responsible guys. How can they not?

  • Foreveris2long

    Dave 32 I have no idea why you would give up on Len after one season where he had no pre-season due to double ankle surgery. Sunsn7 and a few others like EBJM and DBreezy saw the same thing with Lopez after 2 or 3 seasons. Just my opinion but I think Len will be better than Lopez, who I have always thought highly of even when he was injured.

    I think Green will have to quickly overcome the emotional let down of no longer being a starter after he admirably performed in Bled’s absence. The letdown is understandable but he has to get over it if the Suns have a miracle left in them.

    Markief needs to be a starter on this squad. Look he is not a defensive savior but he has a lot more intensity than Frye and is not a one dimensional player. I agree with DBreezy the front court is on life support but today I am benching Frye. It looks like we are about to see a lot of Len and Goodwin with the path we are traveling.

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  • Rengaw

    I was disappointed the Suns didn’t try to get Spencer Hawes. He is from my neck of the woods up here in the Seattle area. He makes everyone around him better….he can rebound, he can score inside or outside, and he can really pass well for a big guy.

    I love those Morris twins but they are such a mystery defensively. They can be pretty good at times and then they have times when they show little resistance. This team needs someone to come off the bench and raise a little hell in the middle. Like a Reggie Evans.

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    I also liked Hawes, and i live in Ellensburg, WA now, instead of Arizona so its kind of my neck of the woods as well.

    He would have been great on a veteran team, or the perfect backup 5, or even a starting 4

    Hawes and Len up front would be very nice!

    But hey we can always get him in free agency right?

  • sunsn7

    “The first-year head coach elected instead to run Bledsoe alongside Goran Dragic and Gerald Green, but that lineup didn’t yield any better results…”

    Not with Channing Frye and his matador defense…Alex Len and Miles Plumlee up front along with those 3. Give that lineup some burn and see what happens.

  • sunsn7

    I say again…