The good news? Phoenix Suns fans will have nerves of steel by the end of this season.
The bad news? They might not make it there after the latest Suns-induced heart-attack.
After watching the Helter Skelter Suns build double-digit first half leads only for them to steadily shrink over the last few weeks, Phoenix doing the same against a veteran Chicago Bulls team — even with the Bulls on the second night of a back-to-back after playing two overtimes in Los Angeles last night — wasn’t very surprising.
But luckily for the Suns, they were able to execute late and emerge with a 99-93 home victory.
Once again, the Suns built a double-digit advantage in the first half, using a 14-0 run — fueled by seven points from Marcus Morris — to build a 15-point lead. Phoenix led 55-42 at the break, outscoring Chicago 16-6 in fast break points.
But once again, the Suns relinquished an early double-digit advantage in the second half. Chicago used an 16-4 spurt to cut Phoenix’s lead to three points with four minutes left in the third quarter, while the Suns missed 16 of their 22 field goals in the period.
A Kirk Hinrich floater momentarily gave Chicago a one-point lead, but a Brandan Wright put-back gave the Suns a one-point advantage heading into the fourth.
Foul trouble gave the Suns problems in the third as they were outscored 25-13 in the quarter, with both Alex Len and Markieff Morris riding the pine with four fouls apiece. But a 7-2 run from the Suns, fueled entirely by the Morris twins, gave Phoenix a more comfortable six-point lead near the beginning of the final period.
Backup Brandan Wright, who finished with eight points, five boards and two blocks off the bench, said a big factor in preventing the come-from-behind win was that everyone was ready to play.
“You need guys to be ready, it’s going to happen sometimes,” he said. “Different nights will come up with different situations, but we all played well tonight.”
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The Bulls battled back as expected, but the Suns executed when it mattered most, starting with P.J. Tucker, Phoenix’s Mr. Fourth Quarter. After hitting a fadeaway jumper, Tucker grabbed a big offensive rebound on the next possession and put it back in to give the Suns a seven-point lead with 3:41 to play.
On the next possession, Goran Dragic flew out of bounds after a loose ball, saving it to Alex Len, who finished through the contact from Pau Gasol to get a big bucket. Derrick Rose countered with a bucket, but a Dragic layup on the next play gave Phoenix a nine-point lead with 2:24 to play.
“It was a big-time win. I felt that we needed everybody on the team tonight, we played really hard together, we fought,” Tucker said. “But our toughness at the end, our will to win, we wouldn’t let it happen so I loved the energy and effort tonight.”
A 7-0 spurt from the Bulls cut the lead to two with 31 seconds to play and gave the Suns (yet again) a slight scare, but Eric Bledsoe hit a floater with 10.2 seconds remaining to boost Phoenix’s lead back up to four and put the game out of reach.
The Suns clamped down defensively late in the game, and though the Bulls missed some easy looks at the basket, Phoenix actually ended up out-rebounding Chicago 50-49.
Eric Bledsoe led the Suns 23 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals, while Goran Dragic added 21. Marcus Morris had 12 off the bench, while his brother Markieff Morris finished with 12 of his own.
The Bulls were led by 23 points from Derrick Rose and 22 from Jimmy Butler. Aaron Brooks added 21 in 31 minutes off the bench.
Gerald Green received a curious “DNP” on the stat sheet. No injury or trade was reported, making it the coach’s decision.
After the game, head coach Jeff Hornacek said it was just a matter of matchups and that it wasn’t Green’s night.
“We just kind of squeezed him tonight, but tomorrow night could be his night where he plays a lot of minutes and does a great job for us,” he said. “It’s just one of those things.”
The win moved the Suns to 15-6 against Eastern Conference opponents and 16-6 since implementing the new starting lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Alex Len. Phoenix improved to 10-4 in January, closing the eight-game home stand with a 6-2 record.
Phoenix also moved to 5-0 in nationally televised games this season. Their next game is tomorrow night on the road against the Golden State Warriors, who will be coming off a loss against the Utah Jazz Friday night.
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