In reality Phoenix Suns forward Michael Beasley has played 17 home games now this season and well over 100 during his NBA career across three different teams, but tonight was his first true home crowd since college. Primarily because his college crowd followed him to U.S. Airways Center.
Well, they followed the Kansas State Wildcats football team that is playing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night against the Oregon Ducks.
Apparently the Wildcats drew the short straw as the Ducks were likely out in old town enjoying the night life as the kids from Kansas were subjected to only 6:44 minutes from their former Manhattan star. All throughout the game there were thundering cheers for Beasley, and, ultimately, gentry caved in the second quarter inserting Beasley to -- I kid you not, a standing ovation. Surreal chain of events on a Wednesday night.
However, it wasn't until the third quarter until the Suns turned on their jets, the polar opposite of what happened the other night in Oklahoma City.
In that third quarter the Suns were led by the stellar play of Goran Dragic and Luis Scola who combined for 15 points and 6 assists on their own. Scola was an assassin from about 17 feet out knocking down jumper after jumper while Dragic pulled the chair out from under (basketball style) Jrue Holiday completely throwing off his rhythm for the rest of the quarter.
Containing Holiday was not only the key to the game, but imperative in terms of staying in this game based on his outburst last time the two teams met. Once Dragic did that Holiday went four straight possessions of one-on-one basketball missed every shot and allowing the Suns to stretch the lead.
Holiday shot 3-8 in that third quarter with two turnovers and only one assist.
Mentally taking Holiday out of the game proved fruitful with giving the Suns a nine point lead after three. He made a short burst in the fourth quarter helping cut the lead briefly to three points with under three minutes to play, but the death nail by P.J. Tucker wrapped it up as the Suns won 95-89.
The team was led by Luis Scola (21 points 9 assists), Marcin Gortat (11 points 14 rebounds), Goran Dragic (20 points 6 assists), and holding Holiday down (16 points 10 assists 10 rebounds) to move to 12-21 on the season.
Exorcising demons is what a long season is all about and one of the most pronounced of the Phoenix Suns (11-21) demons is a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia 76ers (15-17). That loss helped to spark the beginning of the team's downward spiral into a seven game losing streak. You remember that?
Throughout a long season like this one there are a lot of demons to exorcise.
Early on the Grizzlies stole one from the Suns and the Jazz dominated them, both on the road. A little change of scenery and the Suns were actually able to pull of the win simplifying the game plan against the opposing star. In the losses Zach Randolph (38 points 22 rebounds) and Al Jefferson (27 points 14 rebounds) controlled the game, but in the return wins they combined for a meager 32 points and 21 rebounds. The relevance in that is when the 76ers stole their win on the east coast it was because of an absolutely dominant performance from their star -- Jrue Holiday.
Holiday took control on the perimeter, rather than the previous two in the paint, but was just as effective with his 33 points and 13 assists.
That has been part of the theme this season with opposing team's point guards. From a defensive standpoint the team upgraded (at least athletically) at the point guard position with Goran Dragic, but he has struggled to control opposing point guards. On the season he is +2 in points, +9 in assists, +12 in steals, and -12 in turnovers. It has been a dead heat all season for Dragic, but the elite lead guards have been outplaying him consistently.
Ten games this year Dragic has outplayed his counterpart in terms of production and the team is 4-6 overall in those games. When he is not playing at a high level and winning the point guard battle the team has struggled. In games where he is simply playing to a draw the team is 5-5 and in games where he is being outplayed the team is 2-8 so far. Another barometer of the team and how they are playing this season. When Dragic stirs the drink, it goes down smooth.
Suns at home: 9-7
76ers on the road: 6-10
Suns rebounding per game: 39.8 (17th)
76ers rebounding per game: 41.7 (12th)
The team is 2-14 on the road this season, the third most dubious mark in the league behind Washington and Sacramento, both 1-13 right now. Defensively the Suns have been awful on the road giving up 106.6 PPG (-10.22 margin) as opposed to at home where they give up 96.25 PPG (+2.13 margin).
After losing to a team this season the Suns have had a chance at redemption five times going 2-3 so far knocking off both Utah and Memphis as mentioned earlier. This game tonight against Philadelphia can get them to even in rematches after a loss.
Goran Dragic v. Jrue Holiday
Holiday systematically took the team apart in their last outing, carving up the Suns for 63 points total between scoring and distributing. Dragic needs that type of performance -- not statistically, but in a sense of a game where he owns the match-up against an equal at his position.