The suns won their 48th and final game of the season thanks to their smoking hot rookie, Archie Goodwin, who scored 29 points off the bench in his first major NBA minutes of the season.
The Suns started out with their normal starting unit, save for Gerald Green replacing Goran Dragic, as expected. The first quarter began with both teams playing noticeably loose, almost in full exhibition mode. Miles Plumlee attempted a step-back fade-away jumper as the first shot of the game for the Suns...if that's any indication.
Gerald Green was the main scorer for the Suns through most of the first quarter, scoring the first nine points for Phoenix. Markieff came in first off the bench to replace Plumlee after about four minutes in. Then, about midway through the first, Alex Len got the call as the first rookie to check in, replacing Channing Frye. After that, it was Ish Smith who got the call to replace Eric Bledsoe with about four minutes left in the half. Still no Archie Goodwin.
The Kings started going on a mini-run with some nice play by rookie Ben McLemore and Jason Thompson...but Ish Smith showcased his speed and aggression throughout to help keep it close, including a last second up and under lay-up at full speed to end the quarter. That team option of his for next season is looking like a pretty good deal at this point.
The Kings led it 24-21 at the end of the first quarter.
Finally, Archie Goodwin was given the call to start the second quarter in place of Gerald Green, and Shavlik Randolph also got his first action of the night as he replaced Alex Len. Goodwin wasted no time getting on the board with a nice scoop-shot inside, and almost had another but fumbled the ball going behind the back as he drove to the rim. Still, the aggression and raw talent that made the fans fall in love with him was on full display.
Goodwin went right back to work on an and-one shortly after, scoring five points in his first three minutes of action. But he wasn't done yet...he then attacked the rime with a SAVAGE dunk on about three Sacramento Kings players earning yet another and-one. We're talking SportsCenter Top 10 material here...It was absolutely incredible. Although he missed the following free-throw, his first seven points in the first four minutes of play was probably the best stretch we've seen from him this season.
Lastly, it was Dionte Christmas time as the Suns finally subbed him in at about the seven minute mark of the second quarter, making the bench clearing complete. Len came back in for Randolph as well, and although he was certainly overshadowed by Archie thus far, he still provided some decent defense out there. He also attempted a couple of 15-footers in the first half, and although they looked good, they just wouldn't fall.
Goodwin had a couple more highlights to end the first half. First was a stolen pass for a breakaway 180 reverse dunk, and then a last second put back lay-up to tie the game 47-47. Goodwin was officially MAN ON FIRE with 11 points in his first 12 minutes of play! Although it was the Archie show for the Suns, the Ben McLemore show was also in full effect for the Kings, as he scored 18 points in the first half.
The third quarter started with the starters once again, minus Dragic of course. Gerald Green went glass on a three to start it off for the Suns. McLemore also picked up where he left off netting another three, and then Plumlee got to the rim for a nice reverse layup. The scoring went mostly back-and-forth again in the same spirit of an exhibition game that we saw to start the game. You could definitely see that most of the Suns starters were taking this game pretty easy, knowing there was little to play for.
It wasn't long though until Goodwin came back in...after that hot 2nd quarter you knew he wouldn't sit long. Even with Goodwin in though, the Suns played sloppily and started quickly falling behind. Alex Len also came back in the game, but just couldn't seem to find a way to get the ball in the basket.
The rest of the bench trickled in, and you could see the change in play as the 2nd unit showed a little more care and consistency on the court. Still, the Kings were able to outscore the Suns in the quarter, taking a 74-71 lead to end the third.
The bench plus Goodwin and Len stayed in to start the 4th, but Ray McCallum slipped behind the defense for an alley-oop to start things off for Sacramento. Len took another attempt at a jumper, but still couldn't get it to go. Ish Smith however, provided the Suns' initial spark with a defensive strip from behind and then a fast break no look pass to Markieff Morris who completed an and-one. Ish also pushed the temp on the next play with yet another nice drive and kick, this time to Marcus Morris who hit the shot to take the lead 79-78. Smith was once again proving he can provide quality minutes as a reserve, something he's already done countless times this season.
Just when you thought Goodwin was done for the evening, Markieff threw Archie a pass at the rim which he was somehow able to catch and finish with yet another dunk even as he was moving away and to the side of the rim. Tremendous night for young Archie.
Ish Smith continued to push the tempo of the offense and even showed some nice defensive instincts to bother the Kings on both sides of the court, but Sacramento kept coming and refused to fall far behind. Goodwin was also active on defense, almost grabbing his second steal but was called for a questionable foul on the play to negate it.
Goodwin continued to attack the rim and converted yet another and-one, after an aggressive drive to the rim. He got a little careless with the ball on the next possession, losing the ball which turned into a Sacramento fast break, but those kinds of mistakes are to be expected for a young player seeing his first big minutes in an NBA game.
Sacramento once again answered with an impressive and-one at the rim by Quincy Acy to tie it up, but Goodwin wasn't going to let this one slip away. He had another quick lay-up, and then finally hit a three on the next possession to put the Suns back on top with three minutes to go...scoring 29 points off the bench in all. Amazing.
Although Ben McLemore scored a game high 31 points, just edging out Archie's 29, the Suns were able to hold on for the lead and win their 48th game of the season...giving us one last night to cheer for one of the more memorable teams in recent history.
Well done Suns...well done.
Archie was flat out incredible. He was definitely the star of the game for the suns, showing all of the impressive talent and play that the Suns hoped for when they drafted him. He showed that he is ready to start contributing, and should be a factor for the Suns next season. One more reason to be excited about this team's future.
Len had a fairly disappointing game overall. He simply couldn't find the basket on offense and was a step late on a few defensive possessions as well, yet still did fair in that aspect. Either way, Len has shown the promise to be a formidable big man in this league, and I expect him to contribute much more next season.
Although Smith isn't a rookie, I'm including him in this list because of not only his first year with the team, but also his "team option" status going into next season. I think the Suns would be well served to pick up Ish's $985,000 salary, as he is a reliable third option at a very affordable price. Hopefully we haven't seen the last of him in a Suns uniform.
Despite barely missing the playoffs, the Suns have had a tremendously successful season overall. With the pressure now off, the Suns will play one last game, and give heavier minutes to the younger players before wrapping it up until later this year. Can they give us one more night of excitement?
Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA
When: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Watch: FSAZ (Locally), NBA League Pass
Tonight, the Phoenix Suns (47-34) will take on the Sacramento Kings (28-53) in their season finale. Without the playoffs on the line, the Suns will sit Goran Dragic who has been playing on a sprained left ankle. Gerald Green will start in his place.
Although the rest of the first unit will start as usual, Paul Coro reported that the Suns will play their rookies more tonight as well, which certainly makes sense now that there's no reason not to.
As for the Kings, they will be without their star big man DeMarcus Cousins, who is serving a one-game suspension during their last game of their season, after picking up his 16th technical of the year in their win against the Timberwolves on Sunday night. Pretty crappy way to end the season after having such a great year.
G - Eric Bledsoe
G - Gerald Green
F - P.J. Tucker
F - Channing Frye
C - Miles Plumlee
G - Isaiah Thomas
G - Ben McLemore
F - Derrick Williams
F - Jason Thompson
C - Not DeMarcus Cousins
Over the past four months, all three major sports franchises in the Phoenix metro area have come up just one game short of the playoffs, an ignominious feat that no one wants to repeat.
It's been a frustrating four months in the Valley of the Sun for sports fans.
In late December, the NFL's Arizona Cardinals capped off a successful, nationally-praised 10-6 season with... an early vacation. The 10-win Cardinals set a standard for the most regular season wins without a playoff berth, missing the dance by one game.
Earlier this week, the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes capped off a successful season with a 37-30-15 record, good for 89 points and for their troubles they got an early vacation. They Coyotes missed the playoffs by two points, the equivalent of one win (each win = 2 points, each overtime loss = 1 points, each regular-time loss = 0 points).
A day later, the NBA's Phoenix Suns capped a successful, nationally-praised season with a loss to Memphis, ensuring they would be sent home on an early vacation despite already winning 47 games (with one meaningless game to go).
The 47+-win Suns will become only the 6th NBA team to win 46 or more games, and only the 3rd since the field was expanded to 16 teams, to miss the playoffs. The other two teams to miss? The 2008 Warriors (48 wins) and 2009 Suns (46 wins).
One game out.
That's three major sports franchises in the Valley to miss the postseason by ONE GAME in the last four months.
At least, the MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks aren't likely to pull at our heart strings before snapping it back into our faces. They have mercifully started the season 4-13 with the worst pitching rotation in the majors. Thanks, D'Backs.
Let's put this Suns season into perspective.
Last year, the two young playoffs teams who burst onto the scene and wowed the nation were the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
The Warriors had finally gotten Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut healthy, and raced their way to a 47-35 record to grab the 6th seed in the playoffs as reward for their good work. GS had posted a paltry 23-43 record the year before (lockout-shortened 66 game season), so their rise to 47 wins was a revelation that earned them lots of national attention and TV games.
The Rockets, after acquiring James Harden on the eve of the season, raced their way to a thrilling 45-37 record to nab the 8th seed in the playoffs. Houston had just missed the playoffs the year before, at 34-32, but had turned over nearly their entire roster by opening night of the 2012-13 season. Their rise to 45 wins was heavily documented and rewarded with lots of TV attention across the globe.
Both teams exceeded expectations with young, exciting squads and were rewarded with national TV love and the legitimacy of the playoffs to cement their status and expectations going forward. Thanks to making the playoffs, each team had "arrived".
This year in the Eastern Conference, young teams in Toronto (48-33), Washington (43-38) and Charlotte (42-39) are all getting rewarded with a playoff berth - extending their season and adding legitimacy to what they've done as playoff teams.
The Suns, on the other hand, haven't gotten any of the TV coverage like the Warriors and Rockets the year before, and neither have they enjoyed the legitimacy of the playoffs that all five teams are enjoying.
The Suns started the year off with only one national TV game on the docket (ESPN) and a handful of NBA TV appearances. They began the year on fire, going 19-11 by Christmas with an exciting squad that played both offense and defense, yet was missing the requisite "star" to earn national TV coverage. Yet even while staying in playoff position all season, the Suns never got onto TNT or ABC, and only earned two more ESPN games than were originally scheduled.
And now that the Suns are outed from the playoff picture, they're being treated like that little kid who held his own on the playground but eventually lost the fight to the "big boys".
As all the national pundits finally got it right - that the Suns would never make the playoffs - they're able to breathe easy and give the requisite pats on the top of the head and backside, praised for the "good effort" and sent home with a juice box.
Unfortunately for the Suns, their season will forever be categorized as "upstart" and "exciting" but only as a sideshow before the real season of the playoffs begins.
The Suns were part of the undercard, despite winning the same or more game this season as the "upstart" Warriors and Rockets did last year.
Let's hope next year the Suns don't have to be the team that just missed the playoffs. Let's hope they're not the team being patted on the head for their good effort.
Let's hope they're the team slapping other teams on the back of the head in the playoffs as they streak toward the Finals.