The Suns wore their Halloween costume warmups. All black with white stripes down the side on the shorts and orange numbers and white letters on the shirts... oh, and sleeves.
Substitutions started early for the Suns, with Alex Oriakhi and Chris Babb coming in for starters Markieff Morris and Archie Goodwin, but not before Markieff and Archie combined for a dish (Goodwin) and dunk (Morris) on the break. Well executed set. Meyers Leonard and P.J. Tucker got tangled up about four minutes in and Leonard was t'd up, even though Tucker was the one who spiked the basketball into the stands. Nice to see Tucker's mean streak hasn't dissipated.
Joel Freeland, Leonard, Markieff Morris and Oriakhi were mixing it up inside a little bit... Oriahki lacks Leonard's height, but he's a bit of a dumptruck. Even with the wide body, Freeland appeared to be able to get his shot off over Oriahki. That may be a concern. Arinze Onuaku also threw his weight around inside, which he has plenty of. If Oriakhi is a dumptruck then Onuaku is a bulldozer. Both of these guys should be able to use their bodies to get the position they want... which they'll need to since they play below the rim.
The Blazers, led by C.J. McCollum's six points, won the first quarter (and the point by virtue of the Summer League scoring system) ``19-16.
Goodwin and McCollum started the second quarter matched up against each other. Goodwin went past C.J. on one end and got to the line, then McCollum ended up draining a floater on the other end after using some creative dribbling to save the possession when Goodwin nearly stripped him.
Probably the second most impressive play of the game to this point was an emphatic put-back dunk by Dwayne Collins, who was a late addition to the Suns' Summer League squad. Collins was the 60th pick in the 2010 draft by the Suns and is wearing... #60. You all remember Dwayne Collins, right?
As the quarter progressed, McCollum started to work over his rookie counterpart Goodwin. Of course that should probably be expected since C.J. is an older and more polished player. Marshall took back the defensive duties and didn't fare better. While both of them looked overmatched defensively, it would appear that Goodwin has more of the necessary tools to become a better defender in time.
Marshall does have his plus attributes, though, which he displayed with a surgical pass to Markieff for a lob dunk. He was also able to absorb contact on a drive and finish the play... but failed to convert the three point play by missing the free throw.
The teams split the point for the second quarter (16-16) and Portland led 35-32 at the half, largely due to McCollum's 15 point first half.
The third quarter began with Thomas Robinson erasing P.J.'s existence with a savage block on a Tucker drive to the rim. Robinson, who grabbed seven rebounds in the first half, was an imposing force throughout the game.
After receiving a technical foul on the defensive end, Markieff was able to vindicate himself with a put-back slam (complete with hand taps on both sides of the backboard) on the other end. Both of the Morri asserted themselves and were attacking the basket in tandem.
Suns substitutions started early again as the team went deep into the bench, with 12 players seeing action. It will be interesting to see if this strategy continues or whether the bench will be shortened in some games to give certain players extended burn. It can be hard to get in the game's flow with spot minutes.
Stopping McCollum must have been a point of emphasis at the intermission, because the Suns started to run doubles at him on the perimeter. The Suns looked much more crisp on both ends of the floor as they turned a three point halftime deficit into a 50-43 lead with 3:14 left in the period.
The extended bench philosophy continued as Jake Cohen checked in, giving every Suns' player an appearance in the game. The philosophy seemed to be working, though, as the Suns scored nearly as many points in the third quarter (28) as they had in the first two (32).
The Suns won the point and led 60-52 heading into the fourth.
Dionte Christmas drained an early three and the route appeared to be underway as Phoenix extended to a 65-52 lead. And by appeared I mean it was.
Markieff Morris hit back to back jumpers and the lead ballooned to 17. Morris's jumper from 20' looked smooth. The Suns pesky defense left McCollum flustered and Portland struggled to find another source for offense. It's a good sign a team is playing stout defense when the other team's center (Leonard) is shooting off balance air balls from three point range. And by air ball I mean he missed the rim by about five feet.
Without about 5:00 left in the quarter the game was out of hand and both teams started playing
carelessly more freely. Diante Garrett (and his hideous neon orange kicks) caught a pass and slashed down the baseline for a easy lay in. McCollum found Will Barton on the other end with a pass from near halfcourt for a lob dunk.
The Suns got the point for the quarter and the three for the game, giving them a total of 5.5. Good start towards their aspirations of claiming the Summer League crown.
Final Score: 82-69.
Great teams do not exist exclusively because of great players. Those types of talents are the foundation of a great team, but what binds a team together, makes them great, and becomes the reason why confetti falls and banners are raised are the glue players.
They bind the team together by masking the inefficiencies of stars and doing the little things to win games.
For a Phoenix Mercury team with stars a plenty -- Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and DeWanna Bonner -- among other talented players that give this team the potential to be great. They allow role players to slide in and fill in the blanks. That is what allows great players to be great.
Krystal Thomas, Alexis Hornbuckle, and Charde Houston all fill a void whether it is rebounding, ball-handling, or shooting.
The one player not mentioned there is the glue that does a little bit of everything to make others great. Briana Gilbreath was not acclaimed coming out of the University of Southern California two years ago and has made a significant impact on the team.
Last year she was one of many "fill-ins" on the roster that was required more as a need, a stopgap, rather than the commodity that she has become. Coming out of college Gilbreath was the 35th Overall Pick to the Washington Mystics, but never played a game with them. After the 11 games she played last season the door remained open to join the Mercury despite having two, maybe one realistic roster spot open.
Gilbreath defends the perimeter so Taurasi does not. She chases around guards and forwards alike to preserve Bonner. She rebounds the ball, makes the extra pass, and fills lanes because someone has to.
"When Bri and Charde play like that we are a tough team," Taurasi on her role players. "For 40 minutes Bri chases the best scorer around and Charde gets buckets when we need them."
Players and coaches alike know the value in a player like Gilbreath and others like her. She has a value that goes past 5.9 points per game and 36.6% shooting for her career. Those are logistics that are just a form of her function. Her function is to do the little things. Bind the team together.
"Solid player. Steady, like you said plays defense," said head coach Corey Gaines. "Very long and can guard different types of players she can guard a point and guard a two. At one point we had her guard (Candace) Parker and she is hungry. She is hungry. That is always something that makes someone go hard."
Briana is just fine with being Briana.
"That is my role," Gilbreath said about herself. "Come in, play defense, and bring the energy. Hit open shots. That is my job and I feel like I have accepted that role and have no problem with that."
Accepting that role is key to any player being able to step into the position she is in. Come in and play and as Coach Gaines stated, she is hungry.
That is the common thread with other players of her ilk.
Bruce Bowen did all the same things that Gilbreath currently does for her team. Like Gilbreath, Bowen played with great players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili that allowed him to move around the court freely, defending, rebounding, and shooting the ball situationally. Both players had defined roles that were essential to raising banners.
"When you have players like Diana (Taurasi), DB (DeWanna Bonner), and Brittney Griner you don't have to do it all," Gilbreath said about her role. "You just have to do your job. They gave me a role and I try my hardest to go out there and execute it."
That is exactly what she does night-in-and-night-out.
At her peak, Gilbreath can score the ball in double figures as well fill in the stat-sheet with rebounds, steals, and assists. That is not her role despite being capable of doing it. Instead it is the steady consistency that allows Briana to show her value, much like Bruce with the Spurs and other role players of years past; she just does whatever the team needs.