Suns guard against letdown, beat Bulls to end 6-2 homestand
PHOENIX — The roll call read like a murderers’ row of point guards.
It began with Kyrie Irving, shifted to Damian Lillard, moved along to John Wall and finished with Derrick Rose.
During an eight-game homestand that ended with Friday’s 99-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls, the Suns had to deal with all of ’em. And in the process of going 6-2 during this seeming marathon at US Airways Center, the four teams employing the aforementioned hotshots all lost in Phoenix.
"Really it was our defense," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said, specifically referring to a cause-effect reason for taking down Chicago.
But the recent lockdown of opposing point guards has been a bit stunning.
Including Rose’s 8-for-23 performance for the Bulls, the ballyhooed quartet combined to make a miserable 23 shots in 75 attempts against the Suns.
So, with the great Stephen Curry on deck for Saturday’s game against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, there’s still a sliver of time for Eric Bledsoe to take a bow.
"A lot of it starts with whoever’s guarding that guy and most of the time it’s Eric," Hornacek said of his team’s first line of defense. "Eric’s very good at getting over screens, he’s strong enough that he can take a little bump and still get around it, he’ll get back to his guy.
"That’s been a key for us to beat some of these top teams with those great point guards is for him to slow those guys down and he’s done a great job of that."
Please note: Bledsoe’s mentor, Chris Paul, had a swell game in the L.A. Clippers’ victory over the Suns during the homestand. But despite this blip along the PG gauntlet, Phoenix’s $70 million man certainly underscored his rise as a two-way player.
Breaking it down game by game — with Bledsoe working the majority of these defensive stands — Irving missed 10 of 14 shots, Lillard was off on 16 of 22 and Wall failed on 11 of 16.
As collateral proof of the two-way descriptor, Bledsoe also provided a team-high 23 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals against Chicago. His 8-of-16 marksmanship included a banked-in floater over Joakim Noah that gave Phoenix a four-point cushion with 10.9 seconds to play.
Bledsoe finished his fourth-quarter rescue with nine points, including a 5-for-5 run at the free throw line.
The Suns’ other starting guard was pretty decent against the Bulls, as well. Although Goran Dragic was limited to just two points in the final quarter, he made half of his 18 field goal attempts overall and finished with 21 points.
Perhaps the most interesting Friday number was 14, which represented the rebounds corralled by Suns power forward Markieff Morris.
It was only the seventh double-digit rebound game of the season for Morris, whose previous season high was 11 against the San Antonio Spurs in the Suns’ second game.
Morris struggled to reach his 12-point output (5 of 16 from the field), but made 4 of 7 in the fourth.
Another interesting number from Phoenix’s 28th victory in 48 games was zero. That represented the minutes played by Gerald Green, who averages 21.4 minutes and 13.4 points per game.
"I wanted Goran and Eric in there most of the time," Hornacek said, "and then with Isaiah (Thomas) taking some of those minutes, we just kind of squeezed him (Green) tonight. But (Saturday) night could be his night where he plays a lot of minutes and does a great job for us."
Even though the Warriors also played Friday (losing to the Utah Jazz) and the Suns had the benefit of taking on a Bulls team that worked double overtime in L.A. on Thursday. Saturday’s game will be no hayride.
"I don’t remember it being like this last year, schedule-wise," Hornacek said. "I thought this year, early in the season, we were playing a lot of games that we were coming back to play on a back-to-back and teams were vacationing here in Phoenix for two or three days prior to that.
"Now we suddenly hit a couple of these teams where we’ve been here, had our rest and they were on a back-to-back. That’s the way it goes, it evens out throughout the year. I think the NBA does everyone where they (have) between 18 and 20 back-to-back nights, so that’s the way it is."