Suns Recap: Gerald Green Heat Check Carries Phoenix

Apr 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) dribbles against the Utah Jazz during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) dribbles against the Utah Jazz during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns had been struggling on the offensive end. Eric Bledsoe was struggling with his shot, the Suns went through long dry spells without scoring, and even an improved defense since the trade deadline, it wasn’t enough to make up for their offensive woes.

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Thankfully, even after scoring only 13 points in the first quarter, Gerald Green helped the Suns find their offense against the NBA’s best defense since the All-Star break. Thanks to a 34-point second quarter, the Suns took a 10-point lead into the locker room and held on for the 87-85 win.

Green led the Suns with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including seven straight points in the fourth quarter to help Phoenix regain the lead. Head coach Jeff Hornacek lauded Green for his professionalism despite inconsistent minutes over the last few months.

“Every guy on the team should be that way, they’re getting paid millions of dollars,” he said. “We expect all these guys to be ready. You never know when they’re going to get that spark….We needed the shooting, that’s what Gerald provided.”

Utah’s defense clamped down in the third quarter, holding the Suns to 18 points and allowing the Jazz to turn a 10-point deficit into a three-point advantage entering the final frame. But the Suns responded in the fourth quarter, eking out the victory in a heavily defensive contest.

The victory snapped a five-game skid for the Suns and ended Utah’s three game win streak. It also marked one of the few times the Suns held on in a close game without getting their hearts broken at the buzzer — perhaps due to a questionable no-call on the last possession of the game.

“When I jumped, he kicked his foot out, I knew they weren’t gonna call a foul on that one,” P.J. Tucker said of the Suns’ defensive stand on the final play. “No way.”

Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 21 points while rookie Rodney Hood added 17 in the heavily defensive contest. Derrick Favors finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Eric Bledsoe added 16 for the Suns and quite possibly made the best of decision of the game by NOT giving Gerald Green the ball after Bledsoe stole it from Dante Exum with 43 seconds left, a fresh shot clock and the Suns up by one.

The Suns were without Brandon Knight (ankle) and Alex Len (nose), while the Jazz played without Trey Burke (back).

Return Of The Green Machine

When Gerald Green first checked into the game with six minutes left in the second quarter, the Suns and Jazz were knotted at 29 points apiece. Green, who entered the game to a loud ovation from the US Airways Center crowd, quickly rattled off eight straight points for the Suns to give Phoenix a four-point lead.

Green had 10 points at the half and helped inject some life into the Suns offense after T.J. Warren picked up his third foul early in the second quarter. Phoenix took a 47-37 lead into the locker room after going on an 18-8 run from when Green Machine checked in.

Until tonight, starting center Brandan Wright said he had only seen a Gerald Green heat check on TV.

“He caught fire, he helped us win the game,” he said. “He was a big part of what we needed to do to win.”

After knocking down a jumper to bring the Suns within two in the fourth quarter, he got his own rebound on a miss and threw down a dunk to tie the game. A few plays and questionable Gerald Green shots later, he knocked down a three to give Phoenix a 77-75 lead.

After that, a rare Gerald Green assist led to a P.J. Tucker corner three an an 80-76 advantage.

“The biggest play he made was the shot fake when he kicked it to Tucker in the corner for the three,” Wright said. “They were on him, they knew he was going to catch and shoot but he made the unselfish play.”

“Yeah, with Gerald you never know what’s gonna happen,” Tucker said, laughing. “You just got to be ready, you don’t know if he’s gonna  pass it or if he’s gonna shoot it, but I was happy he passed it, I was pretty open.”

Green only had that one assist for the night, but he outscored Utah’s bench by himself, 24-16.

The Wright Stuff

Any game that Alex Len misses is a bummer at this point, but Wright has filled in admirably with the starting rotation. Wright outplayed monster-in-the-making Rudy Gobert on both ends of the floor for most of the night, finishing with 14 points, three rebounds and four blocks. He was finishing floaters in the lane, defending the rim and even threw down a tough one-handed dunk over the Stifle Tower himself.

“I can get a couple of those every now and then,” Wright said with a smile. “It always feels good to get those, especially on a shot blocker. I feel like him, I’m going for everything, so you’re going to get dunked on a couple of times.”

Wright will be a tricky proposition for the front office this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Does his recent play warrant him a contract extension? Or would the Suns be better off preserving their cap space and letting Wright walk?

For the time being, Wright is definitely playing his way into a nice new contract from somebody.

Scorin’ Warren

If you’re a Phoenix Suns fan and you don’t have a crush/man-crush on rookie T.J. Warren yet, there might be something wrong with you. Now that he’s getting consistent minutes (Warren was the first Sun off the bench Saturday), Warren is showing his ability to score, defend and just make smart plays in general.

Not known for being particularly athletic, Warren had no problem converting this hustle play from Marcus Morris:

Warren finished the game with only four points on 2-of-4 shooting thanks to Green’s heat check. He didn’t have a fantastic game, but hopefully his strong play on both ends of the floor will be enough to help him carve out a regular role in the rotation next season.

“I would think so,” Hornacek said about Warren having a bigger role with the team moving forward. “He’s shown that he’s made strides since the beginning of the year. He’s going to have some really good games and some games that are a little bit more of a struggle, but he’s going to be a big part of the future.”

Next: Phoenix Suns: How Their Defense Improved And Their Offense Died

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