I hoped you like excitement with your bacon and eggs! The early match-up between the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors was a high-scoring, fast-paced treat and a nice change of pace from the quicksand sloppiness of the Suns' victory over the Boston Celtics. Phoenix kept up their winning ways, downing Toronto 121-113 to sweep the season series versus the Raps. Gerald Green rediscovered his shooting touch, scoring 28 points on 9-18 shooting. The whole team rediscovered its defensive focus. Despite giving up 113 points, Phoenix held Toronto to 49.4% shooting and 30.4% from downtown. And they absolutely destroyed Toronto on the boards, outrebounding them 45-26. It was a much-needed solid win over a playoff-bound team.
Goran Dragi? put up a now-typical line of 19 points and 4 assists. Eric Bledsoe did most of his damage at the free throw line, going a perfect 10-10 en route to 14 points. Markieff Morris was invaluable, gobbling up 14 rebounds to go with his 16 points and P.J. Tucker did an excellent job on Raptors' leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, holding him to 17 points on 6-16 shooting.
Hats off to a terrific Toronto team who stayed with the Suns till the last minute. Kyle Lowry started slowly, but finished with 28 points ant 13 assists. And Toronto's starting frontcourt was tremendous offensively, but offensive defensively. Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross combined for 57 points on 23-36 rebounds, but only managed a meager 8 rebounds between them.
Phoenix will need to continue its momentum on both ends of the court against the Nets tomorrow night in Brooklyn.
The pace favored the Suns early if the score did not. Miles Plumlee drew 2 fouls in first 5 minutes and went to the bench early, sparing Suns fans more in-and-out jump hooks. It didn't matter who was guarding Jonas Valanciunas as he was killing the Suns in the paint and from the wing, going 6-8 for 13 first quarter points to pace the Raptors. For Phoenix, Goran Dragi? carried the offense early until Gerald Green entered the game and re-discovered his touch, hitting his first 5 shots to match Valanciunas' 13 points. The offense was firing on all cylinders even if the defense continued to struggle. Despite giving up 65% shooting, the Suns took a 37-35 lead in to the second quarter.
The fast pace continued into the second, but not the hot shooting. After both teams shot over 60% to start the game, they went a combined 2-12 in the first 3 minutes of the second stanza. The Phoenix bench found some long-absent defensive intensity and managed to open up and maintain a 7 to 9 point lead. P.J. Tucker continued his strong play, going to the line on consecutive possessions after getting fouled grabbing big offensive rebounds.
The defensive intensity continued once most of the starters re-entered the game. After allowing 35 first quarter points, Toronto only managed 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the second. But the last 2 minutes of the second quarter were disastrous, as Toronto went on a 10-2 run to close a 10-point gap to 2. At the half, the Suns lead 61-59.
Hey! Remember back when Miles Plumlee looked like a total steal? He looked like that again in the second half, taking Valanciunas off the dribble and then showing some fine footwork on an up-and-under move for 4 straight Suns points early in the third quarter. Further helping the Suns' cause, P.J. Tucker continued to lock up DeMar DeRozan. After the Raptors got calls nearly every time they entered the lane, the Suns got strips on consecutive possessions with 7 minutes left in the third quarter. On the second, both Raptors coach Dwane Casey and DeRozan drew technical fouls. Eric Bledsoe hit both free throws to extend the Phoenix lead back to 10, 80-70.
And that was just the beginning of the fireworks! P.J. Tucker forced yet another turnover which led to 2 more Eric Bledsoe free throws. Then Miles Plumlee blocked an Amir Johnson dunk attempt which led to a Tucker fast break lay-up, stretching the lead to 14 before a Terrence Ross lay-up stopped the bleeding for the Raptors. It was a tremendous defensive stretch for a Suns team that has struggled on that end for several games. Sadly, it didn't last as Kyle Lowry proceeded to demonstrate that his All-Star snub was just as egregious as The Dragon's, scoring 10 of Toronto's next 16 points to cut the Suns' lead to 2. The Suns recovered to lead 96-90 after three.
The fourth quarter started with continued strong defense by Phoenix, holding Toronto scoreless for the first 4 minutes, while stretching their advantage to 14. While Toronto never gave up on the came, they were unable to get any closer than 7 points as the game came to a close.
Where: Air Canada Center - Toronto, ON
When: Sunday, March 16 - 10:00AM ARIZONA TIME!
Set your alarms, Arizona and West Coast Suns fans! The Phoenix Suns (37-28) will make like the real sun and rise and shine for an early morning tip-off against the Toronto Raptors (37-27) on Sunday morning. I can't find the statistics to back it up, but I can't help but think the 1:00PM local time tip-off bolsters an already significant homecourt advantage for the Raps. As they say in neighboring Quebec, "C'est la vie!"
Toronto currently sports the third best record in the Eastern Conference and is a sturdy 20-12 at home. They are even a respectable 14-12 versus Western Conference opponents. The Raptors owe some of their seeding to some tremendous underperforming by the Chicago Bulls (due to injuries) and Brooklyn Nets (due to systemic underperformance). Nevertheless, they have earned their wins via a calculated and efficient offense and stout defense.
There are a lot of similarities between these two ball clubs. Like Phoenix, Toronto learned the benefits of addition by subtraction, sending Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes (most of whom form the core of Toronto's bench unit). Along with Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was tapped for Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in December. Similarly, this is a young athletic team led by a dynamic guard duo in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Continuing the likenesses, Toronto loves the 3-ball, garnering 25.2% of their total points scored behind the arc, vs. 26.5% for the Suns.
Unlike Phoenix, these Raps don't run. At 23rd in the NBA in pace, they are the kind of slow deliberate team that have given the Suns fits all season long. Combine that pace with the 6th ranked defensive rating in the NBA and this is a tough match-up for a Phoenix team that's struggled in the half court all season long. Playing the role of wild card for the Raptors is second-year forward Terrence Ross. Ross averages 10.7 points per game, but is capable of going off, notching a 51-point game earlier this season. With a strong bench comprised mostly of solid veterans, ALL of the Suns will have to come ready to play for Phoenix to get out of Canada with a win.
Phoenix has clearly been struggling lately. The defensive intensity has dropped from earlier in the season and as Dave King pointed out, there are cracks showing in the team's confidence. Perhaps after 60+ games, this team is no longer "stupid enough" to just think they can win.
All is not lost by a damn sight, however. Phoenix just snapped a 3-game losing streak by gutting one out versus the Boston Celtics. Eric Bledsoe is looking as athletic as ever in his two games back from injury. Goran Dragi? is playing as good or better than all but a handful of players in the NBA every single night. P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee are double-double threats every time they take the floor. Markieff Morris continues to make his case for Sixth Man of the Year consideration. And coach Jeff Hornacek continues to inspire confidence in players and fans alike.
Your Phoenix wildcards for the game: Channing Frye and Gerald Green. When one or both of those guys are hitting on offense, the Suns are nearly unbeatable. When, they combine for a gnarly 3-18 from the field as they did against Boston... well, you get a team that struggles to score 90 points despite a season average of nearly 105 points per game. Both players have struggled lately after having near career years from behind the 3-point line. Toronto could be the cure for what ails them: despite that #6 defensive rating, Toronto allows the 10th highest 3-point percentage to opponents in the NBA.
Battle of Wills - These teams are evenly matched. This game will go to whoever wants win number 38 the most. The answers to the following questions will loom large in the outcome. Will Phoenix be able to get out and run or will Toronto manage to slow things down to the glacial pace they prefer? Can the Suns manage a strong defensive showing for a second straight game? Can Dragi? and Bledsoe outplay DeRozan and Lowry? Will Frye and/or Green take advantage of the one weak link in Toronto's defensive prowess?
Toronto is playing to maintain home court advantage in the first and/or second round of the playoffs. Phoenix is playing for their playoff lives. The question of who wants it more shouldn't be a question at all. As much as I think the matinee tip-off is a handicap for Phoenix (and could lead to a dreaded slow start), I think the Suns find a way to translate that desire into a close win over Toronto. 103-100, Phoenix.
There's no way to spin it in a positive light, this was a bad week for the Suns...Going just 1-3 overall. However, this week also marked the return of Eric Bledsoe. Although the team is experiencing some growing pains, there were still some standout performances from an otherwise forgettable stretch of games. Who deserves to be named the player of the week?
The NBA is all about which player and team can rule the court in the most epic fashion and Bright Side of the Sun has teamed up with Crown Royal to rank the best of the best Phoenix Suns players each and every week. Which player(s) ruled the court this week? #ReignOn
Weekly Stat Averages:
Minutes: 31 Points: 16 FG%: 41% Rebounds: 6.5 Steals: 1.5 Assists: 6.5
Eric Bledsoe's return from injury could prove to be a game changer for the suddenly slumping Suns. Although the team seemingly experienced some growing pains with Bledsoe back in the lineup over the past two games, it's easy to see just how important he is to the overall dynamic.
Bledsoe's speed, strength, and aggressive style of play are unique traits that simply cannot be replaced with anyone else in the lineup. Gerald Green did a fantastic...nay, phenomenal job of filling in for Bledsoe while he was recovering from his knee injury. But watching what Bledsoe could do on the court in only two games this week was a reminder of just how special of a player he is.
While EB was no doubt rusty after missing over 30 games in a row, his athleticism, speed, and aggression remained unchanged. He attacks the defense and pressures the opposing guards, always looking to make a play. How much better will the Suns be once he re-acclimates himself back into the starting line-up and shakes off the cobwebs?
He averaged 16 points a game coming back from an injury, and still managed to shoot 41% from the field, even though his jumper is noticeably shaky. Not to mention, he registered a double-double on points and rebounds in only his second game back in action. The Suns should only get better with the Suns' two-headed backcourt monster now back in effect.
Weekly Stat Averages:
Minutes: 38 Points: 23 FG%: 53% 3FG%: 46% Assists: 5.0 Rebounds: 1.5
Before writing this article I was under the impression that Goran had a fairly so-so week. After all, the Suns struggled from the field and missed a lot of big shots that could have turned the tide in all three of their losses, and even their win was an ugly one.
However, upon closer inspection of the Dragon's numbers, I couldn't have been more wrong. Dragic had another excellent week, averaging 23 points off a very efficient 53% shooting overall while knocking down 46% from long range.
This just goes to show how that anything less than outstanding from Goran now seems underwhelming for some reason. We are spoiled by his consistently excellent play, and have come to simply expect it at this point.
Once again, Dragic was the heart and soul of this team, and he is doing everything in his power to will this team to a victory night in and night out.
Weekly Stat Averages:
Minutes: 9 Points: 3.7 FG%: 67% Rebounds: 2.0 Assists: 0.7
Looking at Len's stats alone, it doesn't make any sense that he should be on this list. In fact, there is nothing about his play overall that would put him in the same category as Dragic and Bledsoe this week.
So why is he here? Simple. Without Len's very timely tip-in plus an and-one at the end of the game on Friday night, the Suns very well may have lost the game, and gone 0-4 on the week. Len's three-point play sealed the deal against the Celtics, and let the Suns escape with a win in their sloppiest offensive game of the year.
Is that enough to earn the Player of the week award? I'll let you decide. But getting the Suns' a much needed victory with his late game heroics at least puts him in the discussion.
So who do you think deserves to be named the "Suns' Player of the Week"? Vote in the poll below and explain your choice in the comment section.
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