P.J. Tucker loves the Clippers.
A look at last season's numbers will tell you that Isaiah Thomas is trending in the right direction. In the Kings first game against Charlotte on December 17th, Thomas hoisted up 23 shots in a 21 point effort, his fourth most attempted field goals all of last season, and connected on just 8. When the teams met again on January 4th, IT again scored 21, though this time on 9 of 17 shooting. Thomas also doubled his assist total, from 4 to 8, in the second matchup.
They're not the favorite opponent of Gerald Green. The second game was unremarkable. Green tallied 5 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes of play. The first game was hypothermic. 5 of 15 from the field, 14 points, not good, but not head-turning bad. 0 of 8 from three, now you've got my attention. The frigid performance was Green's worst from behind the arc all of last season.
P.J. Tucker is fond of the Clippers. Last season Tucker logged double digit rebound totals in 15 games, 3 of those came against Los Angeles. On March 4th he also totaled 18 points, tied for his third highest output of the season, on 8 of 11 shooting.
Miles Plumlee was especially efficient last season against Los Angeles. In three games against the Clippers, Plumlee shot 15 of 22 from the field, averaging 10.6 points in 24 minutes. He ripped down 23 rebounds in total against LA, 8 on the offensive end, and committed just 3 turnovers across the 3 games.
Hate might be a strong word, but behind the arc the iron was certainly unkind to Goran Dragic. Collectively he shot 2 of 14 from three in four games against the Clippers. He also turned in one of his worst performances of the season against Los Angeles, a 2 of 11, 0 of 5, 15 point clunker on April 2nd.
Me. You. Blake Griffin is a fan. Last season, Griffin's top shooting effort came against the Suns. On March 10th, Griffin connected on 14 of his 16 shots and scored 37 points in a 112-105 Clipper win. Griffin torched the Suns in under 32 minutes, one of just four games he fouled out of last season.
While with the Jazz, Marvin Williams put together a pair of nice games against the Suns last season. On November 29th in Phoenix, Williams led the Jazz with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting and did not commit a turnover in a 112-101 Suns win. A day later back in Utah, Williams hit 6 of 11 shots for 14 points and pulled down 6 boards in a 112-104 Jazz victory.
Phoenix isn't a preferred foe for Al Jefferson. Charlotte's 6-foot-10 265 power forward averaged 10.8 rebounds per contest last year. In two games against the Suns, he pulled down just 6 in each game. Shooting in the second game didn't go well either. Jefferson shot 4 of 15 against Phoenix. His .267 shooting percentage was his second worst effort of the season.
I don't hate the Suns. You don't hate the Suns. Blake Griffin might hate the Suns. At least on the glass. Last season the four time All-Star, who averaged nearly 10 rebounds per game, failed to top more than 6 in four cracks against Phoenix. The Suns were the only Western Conference opponent that Griffin failed to log double-digit rebounding totals against last season.
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You're reading this because you're a Suns fan. And you probably live in Arizona. If so, you should still check out the many free games they have to play. If you're a Washington resident, we're doing you a favor. You were probably going to draft Dana Barros and Michael Cage.
Here's what the Suns players had to say after their hard-fought win.
Tonight, the Phoenix Suns were able to earn a home win against the Brooklyn Nets, 112-104, based on their intensity and energy in the second half. The Suns dug themselves a hole early on, allowing the Nets to score on high-percentage shots at and around the basket, along with late rotations allowing them to hit some big shots beyond the arc as well.
At the same time, Phoenix was having a great deal of trouble scoring early on, as they couldn't seem to find the bottom of the basket. This led to a staggering differential in field goal percentages in the first half. The Brooklyn Nets shot 71% from the field, while the Suns only shot only 40%. This caused the Suns to fall behind by 14 points by the end of the second quarter..
However, the Suns completely flipped the script in the second half, Not only did the Suns ramp up their defensive intensity, but those stops created transition offense and easy scoring opportunities for the Suns, who thrive in the open court and feed off the energy of big shots and dunks. The Suns intensity on defense helped give them more energy on offense as well, and they were able to completely change the tone of the game, allowing the Nets to shoot only 27.5% in the second half, while they increased their scoring from the field to 57.9%
That was the difference in the game.
Gerald mirrored the same opinion about why the Suns had so much more success in the second half, compared to the first...Intensity. He talked about needing to start the games better in the first half, but how he was encouraged by the team's ability to fight and play hard to get the win. He also win's best quote of the night, "Phoenix Suns, we run and gun".
Eric Bledsoe gave a fairly short and sweet interview, but he seemed to be in good spirits in the locker room, despite his reduced playing time due to the play of Thomas and Green in the 4th quarter. Bledsoe talked about the team's talented bench, especially Green and Thomas who have been difference makers for the Suns so far this season.
Isaiah Thomas also said that although he was happy with the win, he realized the team can't continue falling behind early and expect to be able to battle back at the end of the game. Thomas talked about the importance of getting defensive stops so they can run in transition, where the Suns are at their best.
The Suns are definitely still a work in progress, with some fairly noticeable issues at the moment. They are still trying to find the right rotations to maximize their on-court chemistry, while finding minutes for all of the talented players on the roster who can help the team win games.
Perhaps the biggest issue so far, has been finding a way to get all three of the Suns' talented point guards involved on a consistent basis, while sharing the duties of running the offense and splitting minutes. So far, they have struggled to find that balance, as we have only seen a couple of games in which all three have had big games at the same time.
But one must remember, it's only been eight games, and although things haven't yet worked out just the way they had envisioned, it is still working. The Suns can't continue to fall behind early and hope to fight back late, but the fact that they have been able to do so with regularity should also speak to the resiliency of this team.
One thing's for sure, these Suns never say quit. And when they finally start to put it all together...watch out.
Point guard Isaiah Thomas is a highly paid backup point guard, but he's been playing like the starter the Suns knew they signed this summer. Has he earned the starting spot?
Isaiah Thomas signed with the Phoenix Suns this past summer for just under $7 million per year for the next four years. When he signed, he knew he was not going to be a starter at point guard unless negotiations went sour with Eric Bledsoe.
But that doesn't mean he's conceded a starting position and accepted a bench role during the prime of his career. He would really prefer to start.
"That's my plan," said Thomas about starting to USAToday.com's Sam Amick. "Every day that I come in, that's what I want to do. That's been my mindset from Day One, since I was a little boy. I mean, everybody wants to be a starter. I'd be lying to you if I said it doesn't bother me that I don't start, but I'm going to do what's best for this team and continue to work, continue to be me, and hopefully one of these days my name is called and I'll be a starter and that's that. I can only do what I can control, and that's being me and giving it my all and the coach has got to do the rest."
The Thomas interview was part of a larger article emphasizing that players still put a negative stigma on being a bench player. He spoke to Manu Ginobili, who's been a bench player for much of the past decade for the Spurs, and Andre Iguodala, who just got moved to the bench this season starting every game in which he'd played.
"Guys are wired like that from a young age," Iguodala told USA TODAY Sports. "I mean I've been playing basketball since I was five, and you're just so used to just starting the game. Even when you're young, it's 'Starters vs. Scrubs.' That was kind of the (mentality).
"If a guy is in front of you, then it's like, 'Well the guy is in front of me so I've got to go get his job.' Really, in the NBA, it's 'I need to get paid like a starter.' A team is not going to say, 'I'm going to spend $10 million for a guy to come off the bench.' A team is not going to do that. Or it's very, very rare."
Luckily for Thomas, he already HAS been paid. He is being paid like a starter. And even more importantly, he is paid exactly what he was worth in free agency this summer at the time he signed his deal.
Thomas knows that. And he knew he was stepping into a role that had no guarantees.
"It is important to me," Thomas, at his introductory press conference this summer, said of being a starter. "But when it comes down to winning I'll do whatever it takes to win. I want to be on a winning team. I know I have a role. It's a big part of what's going on here. I'm all for it. At the end of the day we're going to play with each other no matter who starts and who comes off the bench it's about winning."
The Suns were candid with Thomas in July when they signed him, and in every conversation since then. Bledsoe and Dragic are still the starters. But Thomas is still a huge part of their plans.
"There's going to be two of those guys (Thomas, Dragic, Bledsoe) on the court at all times," Hornacek said. "When that happens, teams are going to really have to plan for that."
Thomas was still saying all the right things at Media Day, though he admitted he really didn't know how it would work out.
"You never really see three talented guards like us on the same team," he said. "That's Coach's problem. He has to play us. He has to figure out how he's going to play us. I don't (worry about it) because I can play different ways. I can have the ball; I can not have the ball. It doesn't really matter with me. I can play any way I like. I make adjustments (based on) who I'm on the floor with."
Even recently, Thomas said he and the coaching staff got on the same page.
"We had meetings (recently) with the coaches and the general manager, and they even said, 'On 29 other teams, you'd probably be starting, and it takes a lot to put your pride aside and do what's best for the team," Thomas told USA TODAY Sports. "I just know everything is subject to change. I mean, it's a long season. There are highs and lows."
Thomas has definitely made adjustments. While Eric Bledsoe has not shot the ball as well this season, he's got a fire-breathing mini-Dragon behind him trying to earn the starting spot.
Thomas has been killing it, for sure. He's scoring like crazy and helping lead the Suns to victories in the last two games.
But has he earned a starting spot over Bledsoe? Not so fast.
Bledsoe provides a more well-rounded game and as soon as his mid-range shooting comes back around (23% from 3-16 feet vs. 40% last year) he will be back to his usual self on offense. He still needs to mature in terms of running a team (3.5 turnovers per game vs. 1.6 per game for Thomas), but his defense can be difference-making.
Until then, though, it's Thomas' show.
In the last two games, Thomas has played the entire fourth quarter of each as the Suns have overcome deficits of 8 points (Golden State) and 6 points (Brooklyn). Thomas' unit has outscored those teams a collective 70-36 score, with Thomas scoring 27 points and dishing 4 assists against 1 turnover. Thomas was particularly effective getting to the line, making 16 of 17 free throws in the two quarters.
Bledsoe has been supportive the entire time. After what looked like a pouting session in the opening week when he didn't get back in to the game during the big minutes, Bledsoe has been a model of support. He's up and cheering on the sideline, rooting his team on the entire time.
"The bench is definitely our key," Bledsoe said after the win over the Nets.
Bledsoe helped start the comeback against the Nets in the third quarter by playing tough D. The Suns began the third on an 18-4 run. Bledsoe scored 9 points (3-3 shooting, 2-2 on threes), grabbed three rebounds and dished one assist in the third. The entire team played solid D in the second half, where they only gave up 41 points on 27.5% shooting to the Nets.
"It all starts from the point guard," he said. "I just try to encourage my teammates to get it going a little bit."
He finished his post game comments with even more praise for Thomas and Gerald Green (who scored 28 points off the bench himself).
"Isaiah and Gerald have been great for us," Bledsoe said. "They've been coming in and finishing out fourth quarters and been doing a great job."