After ugly first three quarters, Bledsoe comes through in clutch for Suns; defense again impresses.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX -- One night after a deadline expired without an agreement on a chatter-provoking contract extension, a restriction was placed upon
Eric Bledsoe. This wasn’t something the
Suns were interested in matching.
It went something like this: With 9:33 remaining in the second quarter of Friday’s date with the Jazz, Bledsoe was assessed his third personal foul. So, in the second episode of the Just-How-Good-Will-Bledsoe-Be Show, the Suns’ new point guard was a first-half goner, his restricted minutes allowing him to supply just one point and two dimes.
And it got worse. With Goran Dragic getting smacked on the mug in the second quarter and retiring for the night three minutes into the second half, Phoenix’s extra-point-guard attack was grotesquely out of rhythm.
“We think our strength is with our guards,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said before tip-off.
What did he say after?
“We just didn’t have it tonight.”
But thanks to Bledsoe playing with no restrictions in the fourth quarter, the Suns did have their second win in two tries this season.
Bledsoe, who knocked in 17 of his team-high 18 points -- including 10 in a row -- during the final stanza, supplied the final three of those on a jumper from the top of the key over Jazz star Gordon Hayward that made it 87-84 with .7 left.
“It wasn’t the plan for him to shoot a 3,” Hornacek said of Bledsoe's second made triple in seven attempts.
With the lanky Hayward offering a cushion to the mercurial Bledsoe as the clock drained, the shot choice was easy ... well, for Bledsoe.
“I knew that he was playing me to drive, so I was going to wait until the clock got really low to shoot it,” the 6-foot-1 Bledsoe said of the 6-8 Hayward, “but I already had it in my mind that I was going to shoot it.
“I had planned on it being a 3. He dared me to shoot, and so I knew I was going to shoot it.”
Demonstrating what max extension looks like (as in shooting form), the first-year Sun -- now playing his way toward restricted free agency next summer -- let it rip, followed through and finished the night at 4 of 15 from the field overall.
Hayward, who had tied it at 84 with a 3 of his own on the previous possession, stepped out of bounds at 0.4 seconds while attempting to launch another bomb, and that was that.
Hornacek is coaching the 11th Suns team to open a season 2-0. The previous 10 made the playoffs.
After attaching the “ugly” tag to Wednesday’s season-opening triumph over the Trail Blazers, Hornacek said that visual production was eclipsed by Friday’s performance.
“This one was uglier,” he said.
Here’s the evidence: The Suns made only 37.3 percent of their shots from the field ... and that allowed them to finish 1.2 percentage points better than the Jazz, who are now 0-2. And Phoenix was outrebounded 53-46.
“We were only outrebounded by seven?” Hornacek said while reading the stat sheet in the postgame interview room. “It seemed like 70.”
The Jazz also produced 20 turnovers and missed 10 of their 27 free throws.
YULE NEVER GUESS WHO TOOK OVER
With Dragic still looking a bit cuckoo (he was diagnosed with a right facial contusion) after colliding with teammate P.J. Tucker in the opening half, Hornacek summoned Dionte Christmas from the bench.
“The way we were shooting the ball, we figured, 'Let’s put him in, he might make some shots for us,'" Hornacek said of Christmas, a 27-year-old shooting guard from Temple making his NBA debut after starting his professional career overseas.
Nice coaching move. After about three minutes, it was beginning to look a lot like basketball. During that glorious run, Christmas bagged seven points, helping the Suns go from eight down (53-45) to even at 54.
“I’ve been a pro now for four years,” Christmas said, “and I know what it is to be excited but to also remain calm and be professional -- especially at a time like that.”
THEIR MILES MAY VARY
After playing a grand total of 55 minutes last season for a Pacers team that didn’t seem to need him a second longer, Miles Plumlee recorded his second consecutive double-double for the Suns.
The second-year post player from Duke scored 13 points and had 13 rebounds Friday, going 6 for 11 from the floor and erasing three Utah shots.
Jazz center Enes Kanter did go for 20 and 12 but required 22 shots -- including several that occurred when help didn’t arrive quickly enough to cover Plumlee’s rotation to stop drivers -- to produce his points.
HIGH MARKS FOR D
Aside from not finishing possessions -- they surrendered 22 offensive rebounds – the Suns continues to look un-Phoenix-like on defense.
“They’re helping each other out,” said Hornacek, whose team limited the Trail Blazers to 40.7 percent shooting Wednesday. “I think they’re doing a pretty good job of that, but there’s always room for improvement.”