Phoenix Suns: Young Bench Experiences Growing Pains In OT Loss

Oct 13, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren (12) shoots the ball over Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) in the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 13, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren (12) shoots the ball over Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) in the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

With three key rotational players out, the young bench of the Phoenix Suns experienced the highs and lows of roller coaster NBA basketball Tuesday night. Facing a 17-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, Phoenix’s reserves battled their way back from the brink, only to fall 135-129 in overtime against the Houston Rockets.

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It was another slow start for the Suns in both the first and second half, with Phoenix’s makeshift starting group allowing the Rockets to score on five of their opening six possessions in the first quarter and all nine of their opening possessions to start the second half.

After surrendering 42 points in the third, constantly allowing Terrence Jones to go to his left and giving up corner threes to Corey Brewer, the Suns found themselves in a 17-point hole entering the fourth. It was a grim situation, from the Suns being bullied on the offensive glass to poor Brandon Knight being on the wrong end of yet another monstrous poster, this one by Clint Capela.

With Eric Bledsoe (stomach bug), Tyson Chandler (back spasms) and Alex Len (sprained ankle) all sidelined for the night, Phoenix’s starting five of Brandon Knight, Sonny Weems, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Jon Leuer was being abused by a Rockets team that didn’t even have James Harden, Ty Lawson, Dwight Howard or Donatas Motiejunas available.

Jones looked like an All-Star en route to his 23 points while Brewer added 21 of his own as a starter.

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But what felt like fourth quarter garbage time quickly spiraled into an improbable comeback led by two of the team’s youngest players, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker.

“Well you know what you’re going to get from the key contributors most of the time,” Hornacek said. “So really you’re still looking at who your bench guys are going to be, what kind of rotations might come about. You know, we want to see all these guys compete. There are still a couple of roster spots, there are minutes up for grabs and we just want them to go out there and see how they handle it every night.”

Warren (21 points, 9-of-16 shooting) and Booker (20 points, 3-of-6 from downtown) gave Hornacek a lot to look at, especially in the fourth quarter. Booker got things started for the Suns with seven of the team’s first nine points in the period, and then found Mirza Teletovic in the corner for three right after that, cutting the deficit to 11 with just under seven minutes to play.

But Booker’s barrage of threes and relentless drives to the basket weren’t done there. As the Suns were able to string together defensive stops, Booker continued attacking the rim and when the help defense came, he found open shooters on the perimeter.

“He knows how to play,” Hornacek said. “He hit that first three and once you get the reputation of a shooter, they’re going to try to run you off that line, and that’s when he was smart enough to just drive it. He got a couple buckets that way, he made a nice kick-out to Mirza for a three in the corner. Again, for an 18-year-old kid to come out there and make the plays and seem pretty calm out there, that’s great.”

When the Suns rookie splashed in a three-pointer in transition to cut Houston’s lead to three with 2:22 to play, the crowd at Talking Stick Resort Arena was loving it. But when he sank another one from the corner with 49 seconds to play to extend Phoenix’s newfound lead to five, what had been a preseason game adopted the feel of a regular season matchup by measure of the roar of the crowd.

“Those are the moments I’ve been dreaming for, hitting shots and the crowd goes crazy,”Booker said. “There was a great energy in there today. The crowd got us back in the game, honestly. So that helped out a lot.”

Booker got things started, but T.J. Warren carried that momentum forward once he got going midway through the fourth. After scoring on back-to-back three-point plays in transition to chop Houston’s lead down to five with four minutes to go, Warren hit a couple of tough, contested step-back jumpers on Rockets rookie Sam Dekker in the game’s final two minutes.

The first one that found nothing but net tied the game at 111 with 1:32 left to play and brought a preseason crowd to its feet. The second gave the Suns their first lead since the beginning of the third quarter and sent the fans into a frenzy that only got louder once Booker drained his corner three on the following play.

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  • “Yeah, me and Devin did a pretty good job feeding off each other,” Warren said “He was making shots, staying aggressive and I picked it up. It was a hard fought battle and good to come back. Unfortunately we didn’t get the win, but some things we can work on.”

    Booker wound up with 15 of his 20 points coming in that fourth quarter, while Warren added 13 of his 21 in the final period. Phoenix outscored Houston 29-8 over a seven-minute span to claim that five-point lead with 49 seconds remaining, but unfortunately for the inexperienced Suns, even that wasn’t enough to secure the victory.

    Seven seconds of game clock later, Dekker buried a three to cut the lead down to two with 42 seconds remaining. With 17.6 seconds left, Devin Booker threw an errant inbounds pass to a cutting Sonny Weems, sailing over him and into the hands of the Rockets. Denzel Livingston was fouled in transition and made one of two free throws to cut the lead to one.

    The Suns inbounded the ball properly to T.J. Warren on the next play, but he only sank one of two free throws to extend the lead to two. Livingston made a driving layup with 5.1 seconds left to tie the game, and Phoenix made another bad inbounds pass that resulted in the officials calling for a jump ball at center court with 1.4 seconds remaining.

    “You got to zing the ball,” Hornacek said. “You got to understand at the end of games that teams are trying to not let you get the ball. You got to be sharp. That’s good, these guys haven’t been in that position a lot, so that helps.”

    Warren was unable to get his shot off in time after recovering the jump ball, and the gassed Suns were outscored 18-12 in the extra period. Still, there were plenty of positives to take away from such an impressive comeback attempt, even if it ended in an overtime loss to the likes of Denzel Livingston and Will Cummings.

    "“I don’t even know how to explain that fourth quarter, that was a pickup game down at the park,” Hornacek said. “They were missing shots and layups and we came down and got back in the game. Those guys fought, they were down 17 going into the fourth quarter. They didn’t quit on it, they kept going and we made some plays that obviously they’ll think back at and go, ‘Why’d we do that?’“But that’s part of when you’ve got a bunch of young guys out there together, they’ll learn the importance of what happens at the end of a game. Soft passes, not really being in a help position, being ready to help and then get back to your man…it was like we were playing a pickup game.”"

    Mirza Teletovic, who has been trying to get back into shape after hardly playing basketball since blood clots were discovered in his lungs in February, logged a team high 36 minutes and was determined to shoot his way out of a slump.

    Teletovic went 6-for-15 on the night and only made three of his nine three-point attempts, but he finished with a 19-point, 12-rebound double-double and seemed to find his rhythm in the fourth quarter after he got his legs under him again.

    “To come out and just have the opportunity to run up and down and just try to get in shape and everything with the ball, I felt much better,” Teletovic said. “I had a lot of defensive problems because I had no legs in the beginning running up and down, but after getting more minutes I felt much better and better and at the end I felt good.”

    Teletovic is only shooting 8-for-30 from the field (26.7 percent) and 5-for-17 from downtown (29.4 percent) in the preseason, but Hornacek is confident that his shooting stroke will return once he’s feeling 100 percent in shape again.

    “He got some conditioning all right,” Hornacek said. “He’s been working hard to get into shape and he says he feels pretty good….he was tired, but I thought he battled through it. That’s good to see that he’s getting in better shape and when he does, those shots will go in.”

    The Suns may have lost to a shorthanded Houston Rockets team, but the experience the younger players and bench players are getting in the preseason could definitely come in handy once the regular season is underway.

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