After losing two early-season games to the Kings, the Phoenix Suns showed their customary hustle to win an offensive shootout in the desert behind big efforts from Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
After the Kings had closed a 12-point gap to 4 with 3 minutes left, Bledsoe got his career high in points a moment later on a three-pointer. He finished with 28 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.
Miles Plumlee had a great game defending DeMarcus Cousins (only 13 points on 4-14 shooting), and pouring in 12 points of his own (all on dunks), grabbing 9 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Very nice game for him. Maybe he got the Slava wake-up call?
Goran Dragic finished with 29 huge points - all in the first three quarters before Bledsoe took over the fourth - to get the Suns the lead heading into the fourth frame. He nearly tied that career high (32), but a three rimmed out.
And then there was P.J. Tucker. Frustrated all night by the foul calls and physical game, Tucker had a great fourth and helped close out the game with offensive boards and putbacks. He had 5 points and 5 rebounds in the fourth quarter alone (10 and 8 for the game).
Two of the Phoenix Suns nine losses have come at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, and none of their first 12 wins.
Two of the Kings meager six wins have been over the Phoenix Suns, and none of their first 14 losses.
In the NBA, sometimes a team is just a bad matchup. To wit, the Suns have beaten Portland twice this year, accounting for half of their losses in 23 games (Portland is 19-4 this year). Why the Suns have Portland's number, I don't know.
And why the Kings have the Suns' number I don't know. The Kings are a terrible offensive team playing it's first game with all of their new acquisitions in their lineup - Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay... and Aaron Gray, of course. Yet it doesn't matter who the Kings put around DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, the Kings kill the Suns.
After the Suns charged out to a 13-2 lead, the Kings outscored the Suns 32-15 the rest of the quarter and led all the way through the second.
Aaron Gray played like a real NBA player, with 5 rebounds in 8 minutes of play in the first half. Derrick Williams put in 7 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in the first half - not big numbers, but he was in for both big Kings runs and was a +18 in 14 first half minutes of a 3-point game.
The Suns clawed close behind Goran Dragic's awesome first half - 21 points on 7-8 shooting (3-3 on threes) and 2 assists and 3 rebounds. But Dragic had 4 of the Suns' 12 first half turnovers.
Oh yeah, the turnovers. The Suns had 12 in the FIRST HALF ALONE, along with giving up 6 offensive rebounds to the Kings, to help account for the Kings taking 11 more shots than the Suns in 24 minutes of play.
The Suns trailed 61-58 at halftime. Two of those points were on techical fouls, called on Hornacek and Tucker protesting the refs whistles.
Could the Suns clamp down on the defensive end against a Kings team that only scores 98 a game? We shall see...
Plumlee didn't start the second half well, after having been pulled for Slava Kravtsov in the first half already. And when you're pulled for Slava, you know you're not having a good game. Kravtsov played terrible in Plumlee's wake. Really terrible.
And then Plumlee came out of nowhere to block Cousins on a breakaway dunk attempt to light up the crowd (and piss off Cousins). A possession later, Cousins fumbled a loose ball out of bounds in front of the Suns bench. Still heated from the embarrassing block, Cousins jawed with Dionte Christmas and was called for a technical to give the Suns the lead.
Could Cousins recapture his cool?
The Suns sprouted to a 5-point lead in the blink of an eye to force a Kings TO, as Mike Malone tried to regroup his troops.
It didn't work.
The Suns started rolling with aggression that was missing since early in the first quarter. Even when Miles Plumlee missed three straight point-blank shots in the paint (two were heavily contested at least), he tied up the Kings on the way back down, forced a jump ball that went the Suns way and ended in a Dragic three.
Suddenly, it was a 12 point lead for the Suns - a 19-4 run to start the second half.
The key to the game now was for the Suns to stay aggressive. Young teams tend to get comfortable, and either overextend (into fouls) or expect someone else to make the play. Staying sharp is the key.
The Suns did not stay sharp. Turnovers returned. Cousins and Thomas getting calls. Suns missing layups.
At the end of the third quarter, the Suns lead was only three points after they let little Isaiah Thomas drive the length of the court for a layup with seconds to go.
At the end of three:
- Suns lead 85-82
- Dragic had 29 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal
- Bledsoe had 21 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals
- Markieff Morris was the next leading scorer with 9 points, 5 rebounds
- Miles Plumlee didn't have great success against Cousins, but still had 4 steals (a team season-high and Plumlee's career high) to go along with 4 points, 6 rebounds and a big block
In the fourth quarter, the Suns went small with the Morrii at the 4 and 5 for a couple of minutes before subbing out Dragic for Frye. It was Bledsoe's lead to hold.
Aaron Gray imposed his will/size again in the fourth with a couple of putback layins to bail out the Kings bad possessions. The Suns tried to use Frye to draw Gray out on defense, but it was Gray's work under his own basket that kept the Kings alive.
But Gerald Green and Channing Frye hit a couple of big threes to keep the Suns in a comfortable lead.
Then Plumlee came in with a couple of nice finish-dunks and another big block on a Cousins drive, leading to a Bledsoe fast break score, that gave the Suns a 12-point lead with 5:50 to go.
Hopefully, the Suns remember having had a 14-point lead with 3.5 minutes to go in Sacramento last month, and don't let their foot off the gas.
The Kings didn't die, but the Suns didn't have Eric Bledsoe in that first couple of losses either. Bledsoe put on a show in the fourth that was so good you wondered if Dragic would even get back in the game to match/beat his career high - he was only 3 points shy coming into the fourth.
Dragic came back with 4:35 to go, with he and Bledsoe a combined 5 points from their career highs.