On a cold Tuesday Night, the Suns overcame a disastrous start to top the Milwaukee Bucks, improving to 21-16 on the year. While the team struggled to shoot the ball early, multiple players stepped up as the game went on, including Alex Len, who was his usual self, racking up points, rebounds and blocks in a hurry.
The Suns used a late second half spurt to pull within one of the Bucks at the half, but a third quarter stretch by Milwaukee allowed the team to regain momentum. The Bucks managed to convert a few Suns’ turnovers into easy dunks by Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and suddenly the game had turned from a defensive-struggle to an offensive showcase.
But the Suns wouldn’t go away.
Isaiah Thomas buried a three-pointer late in the third quarter, and then Marcus Morris drained a three to start the fourth, putting the Suns up 73-72. Then Goran Dragic banged in a triple, and the Suns had their biggest lead of the game.
They wouldn’t give it back.
It was Eric Bledsoe’s turn to take over, as he would convert on back-to-back baskets, the second of which put the Suns up seven. Bledsoe even made an impressive and-one, which led to his signature celebration, as he headed to the line.
Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic would all make plays down the stretch to ice the game for the Phoenix Suns (no pun intended), but perhaps no player was more important to the team than Markieff Morris. The former Jayhawk had struggled a bit in the team’s last game, but he really turned it around against the Bucks.
Markieff Morris scored 26 points, while racking up 10 rebounds, giving him his sixth double-double on the year. Morris was also first on the team with a plus/minus of +16, playing both the four and the five for extended stretches. Morris also hit the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer to put the Suns up seven with less than a minute to go.
Ice cold start
It was a frigid night in Milwaukee as the Suns took on the Bucks, so cold in fact, that the team was offering fans $5 tickets, mirroring the 5-degree temperature outside. However, while the cold may have seemed daunting, it was nothing compared to the cold play on the court that would follow.
After the Suns won the tip, the game would begin with each team committing a turnover. Even after the two settled down, shots simply would not fall, as the Suns and Bucks combined to make just 1 of their first 19 three-point attempts. Phoenix alone missed its first nine threes, and by the 5:30 mark in the first quarter, every single starter on both teams had missed at least one shot.
With two minutes to go in the first quarter, the game was on pace for a 82-58 finish, and the play wouldn’t get much better, as the teams combined for 15 turnovers in the first period. It took 11 minutes and 23 seconds for Milwaukee to hit the 20-point mark, and it took Phoenix almost 15 minutes. That type of scoring didn’t exactly make for the most watchable of games.
Things would definitely pick up, however, as the Suns would score 82 points in the final 30 minutes of the game, shooting 7-of-16 from three, after starting 0-of-9. Oh, and with the Spurs losing again, the Suns are now just a half-game back of the seventh seed in the West. Not too shabby.
The Larry Sanders effect
With Larry Sanders out for the Bucks, due to personal reasons, Milwaukee was facing the Suns without its best shot blocker, with all due respect to John Henson. The Bucks came into this game ranked 20th in the NBA in blocked shots, and without Sanders, they only had one player averaging more than 1.0 blocks per game.
The Suns took advantage right away, scoring three of their first four made baskets from inside the paint, but as the quarter dragged on, Phoenix starting settling for jumpers, which led to the team’s cold stretch.
However, after seeing his team’s offensive struggles, head coach Jeff Hornacek made the decision to turn to the “PG3” lineup, which led to the Suns getting shots at the rim, putting them right back into the game.
“The shot blocking is not on the floor right now for Milwaukee,” said NBA analyst Greg Anthony on NBA TV, as the teams headed to the half. “Phoenix has fought themselves right back into this game.”
Alex Len was also much more productive without having to face the Bucks’ best interior defender, ending just one point and two rebounds away from another double-double. In the last game between the two teams, when Sanders did play, Len managed just six points and six rebounds, while fouling out in 19 minutes.
Point Guardians of the Galaxy
The Bucks led the Suns 29-20, when Jeff Hornacek decided to put Goran Dragic back into the game, joining fellow point guards Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas on the court. The trio that had been dubbed the “Point Guardians of the Galaxy” by the legendary Greg Esposito certainly lived up to its billing, outscoring the Bucks 23-15 over the rest of the quarter, which kept the Suns within one-point at the half. With the trio on court, the Suns were able to play at a much faster pace, which led to a lot of exciting plays.
All three of the point guards had their moments, scoring at least ten points apiece, but it was their cumulative effort that earned the victory for the Suns. Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas combined for 45 points, 16 rebounds and 14 assists on just under 50% shooting, and for what felt like the thousandth time this year, the Suns got exactly the boost they needed out of the trio.