The wake up call came a bit earlier than usual for the Phoenix Suns, but it didn’t seem to phase them at all. The Suns rolled out of bed and into a shootout with the Toronto Raptors, grabbing the 121-113 win in exciting fashion.
There are a great deal of positives to discuss from this game, not the least of which is Phoenix sitting just one game back of both Dallas and Memphis for a playoff spot. Eight of the ten Suns who saw playing time scored at least nine points. Overall, the team shot nearly 51% from the field and hit 11-of-23 from three. Goran Dragic had 19 points in just 33 minutes. Eric Bledsoe got to the hoop with impunity, earning himself 10 free throws and hitting everyone of them. But the real story offensively was the bench. The Phoenix reserves outscored the Raptors’ bench 59-11. Markieff Morris had a great game netting 16 points on 50% shooting and grabbing a game-high 14 boards. His brother Marcus chipped in 10 and hit two timely triples. But the shining star off the bench was Gerald Green. Gerald hit his first five shots in the first quarter, helping Phoenix claim a 37-35 lead after they had trailed by as many as nine points. Green then, in true streak shooter fashion, proceeded to miss his next eight shots before hitting his final four buckets and helping the Suns close the game out at the free thrown line. Gerald finished the night with 28 points in just 27 minutes.
Defensively Phoenix was led by P.J. Tucker. Tucker put the manacles on DeMar DeRozan, the NBA’s ninth leading scorer. P.J. held the Raptors’ shooting guard to just 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting and forced DeRozan into a team-high three turnovers. Tucker’s defense was the spark that helped turn the momentum for Phoenix in the third quarter. Tucker forced turnovers on three straight possessions leading to eight points thanks to technical fouls on DeRozan and Toronto head coach Dwane Casey. That sequence gave the Suns their biggest lead of the game and put the pressure on Toronto. All of Toronto’s starters scored in double figures, but the Suns kept up with the frantic pace, and took complete advantage of the Raptors’ bench players when they were on the court.
This was an important win for the Suns as they try to break back into the playoff race in the Western Conference. For more on this game, let’s answer our three preview questions.
How does Phoenix adjust to the early start time?
Phoenix was just fine playing at 10 am Arizona time. The Suns overcame an early Toronto lead by shooting 64% from the floor and hitting seven triples in the first 12 minutes. The only guys who didn’t look ready for the early start were the referees. Monty McCutchen and crew had an uneven game to say the least. Their performance drew the ire of both sides as the game went on. In the first, the referees whistled the Suns for seven personal fouls while the Raptors were whistled for just two. In the second, both teams were whistled for seven. After halftime, the crew evened things up by whistling Toronto for 12 personals and two technicals in the third, while Phoenix was called for just five fouls. Ultimately the whistles evened themselves out, but at no point in this game were the refs calling it both ways. The refs gave the Raptors a boost in the first and spurred the Suns in the third. Phoenix took full advantage of their whistles, however, hitting 34 of their 38 free throws.
Who wins the battle of former teammates?
Kyle Lowry might be the most frustrating player to guard in the NBA. He isn’t blessed with incredible athleticism, but what he doesn’t have in hops, he makes up for in toughness and tenacity. He penetrates and draws contact better than any point guard in the game. The former Rocket led his team with 28 points and 13 assists. Lowry went to the line nine times. Dragic, on the other hand, had a quieter game with 19 points and only four assists. Lowry certainly won the battle, but his team lost the war.
Lowry had a scary moment with about a minute left. During a loose ball scramble with P.J. Tucker and Bledsoe Lowry took a blow to the head from Tucker’s knee. He laid on the ground clutching his head for a few moments before receiving medical attention from the team doctors. He went to the bench initially, but returned to the game immediately after a Toronto timeout seemingly no worse for the wear.
Does Alex Len see an increase in minutes?
Not really. Len played just under eight minutes in this one, despite the fact that Miles Plumlee played just 16 minutes himself. While the announcers were still buzzing about Len’s contributions against Boston, he didn’t earn any extra minutes. The fast pace of the game dictated that the Suns go small and run. Len grabbed two boards and missed his only shot.
The one advantage of the early start is that it will give Phoenix added time to get to Brooklyn where they take on the Nets tomorrow night.