It was not pretty. It was not very entertaining. But the Suns’ 94-88 win over the New Orleans Pelicans was still a win. And that is all that matters at this point in the season.
We’ll start with the bad. The Suns gave up 44 points in the paint to a Pelicans team that was missing Anthony Davis. Davis sat out the game with back spasms, but that didn’t stop New Orleans from dominating around the rim. Rookie Jeff Withey led the Pelicans with 17 points, nearly all of which came on uncontested dunks and layups. The Suns’ defense was so lacking that in the second quarter, New Orleans shot 78% from the floor. Miles Plumlee was totally absent as a rim protector, recording no blocks and grabbing only six rebounds. New Orleans was missing all but one of their opening day starters, yet Phoenix’s porous defense allowed the Pelicans’ reserves to score 53 of the team’s 88 points and made guys like Anthony Morrow and Luke Babbitt look like All Stars. Tonight’s game was just another example of the Suns playing down to the level of their competition. Luckily the Suns have three tough opponents coming up, so Coach Hornacek won’t need to worry about his team’s nasty habit for another week.
Offensively, Phoenix played well aside from some poor shot selection by the Morris twins and continued hesitancy from Channing Frye. Goran Dragic captained the ship well throughout the game, keeping the team afloat with 20 points and nine assists and steadying the ship every time the home team threatened to put the Suns in a hole. P.J. Tucker was a rock, as usual, scoring 15 points on just nine shots and grabbing a team-high nine boards. Overall, the Suns shots nearly 49% from the floor, hit nine of their 19 attempts from downtown, and turned the ball over just 12 times. But it was not an offensive performance they’ll be rushing to watch on film anytime soon.
The Morris’ were a combined 7-of-20 and struggled with indecisiveness all game. Markieff and Marcus are at their best when they pull up for jumpers with confidence or drive strong to the rim seeking contact. Neither brother did much of either in this game. Instead they forced awkward, off-balance drives and took contested jumpers. And as for Channing Frye, his cold streak continues. Channing was very hesitant offensively. Aside from a nice jump hook in the first quarter, he did not look confident on a single shot. Frye has struggled at various points this year, but his current slump has kept him below 50% shooting for seven straight games. He has hit only six threes over that stretch, with four of them coming in the loss to the Clippers. The Suns will need Frye to figure it out soon if they want to hold onto a playoff spot. For more on this game, let’s answer our three preview questions.
Can Phoenix control Anthony Davis?
I think it’s fair to say that had Davis played, the Suns would have lost this game. It was clear from the very start that the difference between New Orleans’ record and that of the Suns’ remaining opponents caused Phoenix to overlook this Pelicans team. Davis is one of the most talented big men in the league. Had he played against the Suns who were clearly in auto-pilot, he would have had a field day. Phoenix must capitalize on this bit luck and step up their game up moving forward.
Will Green keep cruising (again)?
For the first 42 minutes of this game, Gerald Green was the Suns’ most valuable player. Continuing his recent hot streak, Gerald had 21 points off the bench, scoring both at the rim and from beyond the arc. He had two great dunks off baseline drives that showed just how locked in he was from the start. Green went 4-of-7 from downtown, but each time he missed a triple, he made a point of driving the ball to the hoop on his next touch. He was doing everything the Suns needed him to do. Then, with 5:35 left in the game, he committed an offensive foul and earned himself a technical foul as he walked to the other end. Coach Hornacek was so incensed with Green that he hurriedly subbed Markieff in for him and had words with Gerald when he didn’t immediately come to the bench. Drawing a tech when the Suns were trailing by two on the road was not a smart move, and the intensity of the moment clearly got to he and Coach Hornacek. The stay in the doghouse didn’t last too long though as Green returned to the court late in the game when the Suns needed to make free throws to seal the win.
Where is Eric Bledsoe’s jump shot?
It is back in a big way. Bledsoe shot 0-for-6 from the floor in the first half. He looked hesitant and indecisive. He airballed a three and looked as though he never wanted to take another jumper. But in the third quarter, with the Suns teetering on the edge of a total meltdown, Bledsoe found his jumpshot and started firing away. In the second half, Bledsoe hit seven straight shots, six of which were jumpers. He drained step backs, pull ups, and a triple off of ball reversal. The bandage on his shooting hand looked like it was covering a burn because his hand was so hot. If not for Bledsoe finding his game, the Suns would most likely have fallen to the Pelicans, but thanks in no small part to his 17 points, six boards, and six assists, Phoenix grabbed win number 47 on the year and held onto the eighth seed in the West.
Bonus Question: How did the Grizzlies do?
Unfortunately for the Suns, their chance to build a two-game lead on Memphis was spoiled. The Grizzlies, thanks to their big man duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, overpowered the Miami Heat for a 107-102 home victory. Memphis remains a game back of Phoenix and 1.5 games back of Dallas in the West. The Suns will take on the Grizzlies in Phoenix next Monday, in a game that will likely decide both teams’ fate.