This year, Green is getting to the foul stripe — he and bench backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas went 20-for-21, taking the majority of Phoenix’s foul shots. He is playing more intense defense and making a few more passes, even if doesn’t look all that natural. His 28 points were the spark for the Suns’ comeback.
Yet, a quick peek at the box score showed that Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee, the two starters who also finished with a group that included Green, Thomas and Goran Dragic, were the most impactful. Morris led all players with a plus-27 plus-minus, while Morris came in with a plus-14, better than Green (plus-12) and Thomas (plus-10).
Always take the plus-minus factor with a grain of salt, but it probably means something.
While the Suns, like they did Sunday against the Warriors, found themselves playing much better defense in the second half than the first, it was the bigs who fixed their early woes against the Nets. Brooklyn hit 17-of-19 shots 5-feet or closer to the rim and 71 percent overall in the first half. In the second half, Lionel Hollins‘ team hit an abysmal 3-for-16 up close.
“I was on the bench for the second quarter so I was looking up and I seen the 70 percent,” Thomas said. “That can’t happen.
“That’s all layups and easy buckets for them.”
The Suns know they’d rather start their games like they have started third quarters against Golden State and Brooklyn.
It’s a process they believe will come to fruition soon enough.
“It was just one of those things – take nothing away from Brooklyn – but we’re a young team,” Morris said. “In the third quarter, we got out, we pressured them. You know, we got the ball in transition, basically just ran them ’til they gave up.”
While Green and Thomas were pumping in 49 combined points, the starting big men were quietly locked in on defense.
Plumlee has been averaging 10 points and 11 rebounds over the last three games and finally on Wednesday found an answer against Brook Lopez, who went 0-for-6 in the second half after pumping in 16 points in 15 first-half minutes. Meanwhile, Morris recorded a quiet nine points, five boards, three assists and three steals, but aside from struggling to chase Mirza Teletovic around the three-point arc, made his impact known.
“It’s just focusing defensively, being alert, helping each other out, not worrying about if your man’s gonna score,” Hornacek said. “If you have to rotate on someone and help someone out, do it and the next guy will rotate over.”
That’s what happened in the third.
The Suns were aggressive. The guards were into the chests of the ball handlers, and there was containment on the three-point shooters when the ball swung.
Plumlee showed more assertiveness on pick-and-roll coverage, knowing he could get away with jumping in a passing lane and have the speed to recover on the lumbering Lopez. A tipped ball led to Eric Bledsoe getting to the foul stripe early in the third quarter, then solid rotations by the entire team and recovery back to Lopez ended with a Plumlee block that led to a Goran Dragic three-pointer, cutting Brooklyn’s lead to five points three minutes into the second half.
It also helped that Phoenix began to make shots in the second half.
“Honestly I think we competed (in the first half),” Morris said.
That was true. Phoenix made 60.5 percent of 38 contested shots and 37.2 percent of 43 uncontested attempts on the game, according to SportVU data. That a team shoots better on contested shots isn’t so uncommon, but it’s certainly important to note such a huge discrepancy from Wednesday night’s game.
“Just missing open shots, we have to figure out which shots were open,” Morris added. “I think coach did a great job of spreading the floor in the second half. I went to the post a lot but second half, he was just telling me, they’re down there, you got to spread the floor, you got to stay at the three(-point line).”
That opened the court for Plumlee’s rim-rolling. Even Green found time to toss it to the center on a pick-and-roll play.
And that Green is showing more effort on defense, well, he’s going to be finishing games if that’s the case.
Hornacek isn’t budging from plan
Schematically, the Suns have to find answers to get better looks, even if the ball movement looked good even in the first half. The worries about the offense will always go back to the three point guards. There still hasn’t been a game where all three are clicking, and Hornacek said it might just be that way.
Bledsoe was the odd man out on Wednesday, playing 23 minutes and recording seven turnovers. Hornacek hasn’t been one to even fairly criticize a player who was struggling, and said his benching of Bledsoe was simply about Thomas and Dragic playing well with the unit that finished the game.
“It’s going to be that every night – you guys are going to ask me a question about a guy every night,” Hornacek said when asked if Bledsoe’s turnover issues were the cause for his disappearance. “Eric played well in the second half, he had a couple turnovers, but that group that was out there was playing hard, playing together. We just kept it that way.”