Timely boost from Thomas helps Suns rally past Spurs
PHOENIX — Sometimes the best thing about a regulation NBA game is that it lasts 48 glorious, stop-clock minutes.
This basketball eternity can provide the opportunity for a team that generates 11 points in the first quarter — or 36 for the entire first half — to stomp on the reset button with enough time left to actually prevail.
A demonstration of this phenomenon occurred Friday at US Airways Center, where the Suns rallied from a first half of rim bruising to score a 94-89 victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
"It’s a long game," Suns guard Isaiah Thomas said afterward, "and shots started to fall."
But without considerable work at the other end of the floor — not exactly a historical touchstone for this franchise — the Suns would have needed way more than 48 minutes to recover.
"I’m proud of the way they really dug in," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said, referring — for the most part — to a fourth-quarter defensive stand starring his three point guards. "Eric (Bledsoe), Goran (Dragic) and all those guys turned it up defensively and that’s what we need."
Yeah, Phoenix unleashed its PG3 alignment for the last 4:35, closing the game with an arena-rattling 10-2 run.
Dragic, it should be noted, was spectating for the previous 7:25 because Hornacek remains serious about rolling with a player who’s rockin’.
And for the second game in this young season, Thomas provided the Suns with 23 points off the bench. His ability to jitterbug past anyone the Spurs put in front of him kept Phoenix within striking distance.
"We just played to our strengths," said Thomas, who deserves credit for his part in the hounding-by-committee of Spurs superstar Tony Parker. "We got stops, pushed the ball and us three made plays."
Parker, who scored 16 points through three quarters, finished with 19.
Bledsoe and Dragic, who were stellar in Wednesday’s season-opening win against the dreadful Los Angeles Lakers, combined to score only 22 points against San Antonio, missing 18 of 25 shots from the field.
"We didn’t shoot the ball well," said Dragic, whose team made 31.7 percent of its shots in the first 24 minutes. "We struggled in offense, but our defense was solid. I think it shows even on an off night, we still can get a win."
By the way, the little guys received considerable assistance in this confidence-boosting performance from Alex Len, whose coming-out-party was marked by 10 points, 11 rebounds and enough pluck against Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting Tim Duncan to keep Phoenix viable near the rim.
"Some great plays by the young kid, Alex Len, good rebounds by him," Duncan, who finished with 16 and 9, said.
And with the shot-alteration properties of his 7-1 length, going with three smaller defenders isn’t as iffy.
Speaking of iffy, a large chunk of this event was no candidate for the time capsule.
Seemingly in defiance of superior coaching from both benches, the Suns and Spurs players didn’t exactly advance their sport in the opening half. With San Antonio unable to muster more than a nine-point cushion at intermission, the Suns certainly had time to make offensive amends.
They were dragged into contention by Thomas, who provided eight points in the third quarter and 10 in the fourth. The 5-foot-9 lefty knocked in five 3-pointers against the Lakers, but was 0 for 3 from behind the arc Friday.
Relaying on his arsenal of hesitation dribble moves to dance around screens and past defenders, Thomas made 10 of 14 of his two-pointers — most of those were pull-ups or layup-adjacent-floaters.
"Our team is so good at spacing the floor," Thomas said. "We got shooters, we got guys that can attack, so you got to pick your poison. I mean once I got by my defender, sometimes I just walked into a layup.
"So it’s just the spacing and the system that we have here. I feel like I’m good enough to close games. I mean I know some nights, one of the guards are going to be on the short end of the stick. We’re not going to always finish games, but at the same time, when I’m out there, I’m just playing to win and that’s what everyone else was doing."
Although going 5-9, 6-1 and 6-3 seems like whistling through the defensive graveyard, the lineup provides swifter help rotations. And by virtue of being offensive playmakers, they also have sufficient defensive wisdom to better anticipate what the opposition is attempting to pull.
"It’s good they did it in the last four minutes," Hornacek said. "If we can extend that out, we’ll be even better."