Goodwin provides late lift as Suns hold off Mavericks

PHOENIX — The chips weren’t just down, they were in danger of being swept off the floor.

And with 6-1/2 minutes left in Sunday’s showdown with the Dallas Mavericks, this Suns sense of doom escalated when Eric Bledsoe’s reward for attacking the rim at the end of a roaring fast break was his fifth personal foul.

The Suns, still attempting to survive the hacking up of their 17-point, second-quarter advantage, were down six and the faint whiff of the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed seemed to be drifting away.

But someone had to come in and attempt to run an offense that had been corrupted by eerily familiar stillness and an accelerated effort from the visiting team.

Brandon Knight was still (at least) a game away from returning from an injured ankle, and newcomer A.J. Price didn’t seem too cozy in this environment. So back into the skirmish skipped 20-year-old Archie Goodwin, whose bankable efforts had been limited to a couple of dimes.

When that final 6:33 was over, however, the Suns — with Goodwin knocking in two huge buckets — had closed out Dallas by outscoring it 19-6 for the 98-92 victory that kept them within 2-1/2 games of eighth-seeded Oklahoma City.

"It was big," Goodwin said of his timely contributions. "We needed a boost and I was happy that I was able to come in and give it to us. I started off rough, but coach (Jeff Hornacek) trusted me to come in and give us a spark."

That spark included a tight spin move and finish to put Phoenix back in front, 87-86, at 3:31, and a 3-point hit to give the Suns the lead  for good, 91-88, with two minutes to play. Goodwin’s heroics came after Bledsoe returned from a brief respite, demonstrating Hornacek felt comfortable rolling with the second-year kid from Kentucky even when he didn’t have to.

"Well, the game was kind of getting out of hand there," Hornacek said, "so we put Eric back in, but then we wanted to try to give him a blow, then right at that same time Archie was going back in, I think Eric got that fifth foul.

Suns 98, Mavericks 92

"I liked it, because we haven’t had that look where we’ve had that kind of high, two-guard front in a while. So I thought that maybe with Eric and Archie out there, we could get the floor spaced a little bit more."

Since shifting from a point-guard surplus to their current, wing-heavy roster, the Suns had interludes of middling offense. But they’ve improved enough defensively to post four consecutive victories — including Saturday night’s rousing triumph over the Rockets in Houston — and bully their way back into the playoff hunt.

"There’s probably a little more reliance on defense," Hornacek said after pointing out how adjustments were required when the Suns divested themselves of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. "This is the type of effort you hope you had for every game all year long … but these guys are young, they’re learning it."

Goodwin wasn’t the only youngster deserving a saluting; T.J. Warren had eight points and Alex Len 10. But some of the Suns’ young veterans deserve considerable credit for Sunday’s success as well.

The Morris twins, for example, combined for 24 rebounds (13 from Markieff) and 30 points, with Marcus also checking in with seven assists.

"They’re not the tallest guys in the world," Hornacek said of the Morris brothers, "so they really go after it. They’re not afraid to get hit."

And the entire weekend was showcase for P.J. Tucker, whose defensive work against James Harden (5-of-19 shooting) on Saturday in Houston was followed similar pestering that helped lead to a 4-of-22 night for Mavericks star Monta Ellis.

"Don’t let him catch the ball," Tucker said when asked for his secret to preventing Ellis from going off. "If he catches the ball, he’s hard to handle. He’s so quick and can really shoot that mid-range shot. So I tried to use my length and size on him as well as my physicality once he gets in the lane."

Like Ellis, Goodwin is quick. For now, the rest of his game is a work in progress. That progress includes making 35 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. And with Knight on the mend, his participation has been required as the Sun attempt to develop their young talent while continuing to compete for the postseason.

"Once you play through your mistakes," Goodwin said, "you learn what do to and what not to do and I’m becoming smarter with my decisions."

But he won’t declare the Suns finally have hit a stride reminiscent of what we witnessed last season.

"I don’t really just say that, because I don’t want to jinx us," Goodwin said, "but I think we’re playing really well right now and as long as we continue to play like we’ve been playing, we’ll be in position to be in the playoffs."

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