Suns complete season sweep of Lakers, now it gets tough
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns weren’t fazed as the Los Angeles Lakers, without Kobe Bryant and Ronnie Price, traded punches en route to a halftime tie.
Then, after building and blowing a third-quarter lead as big as 19, Phoenix needed Goran Dragic to figuratively put ice on Nick Young in the fourth quarter. He did, although it required taking a Swaggy elbow to the face.
After losing so many games to sub-.500 teams last year and this one, Phoenix can appreciate the 115-100 win on Monday, especially with a daunting schedule upcoming.
The Suns threw the final blow behind their unorthodox guard trio of Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas — this in front of Thomas’ pal, undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., who sat courtside.
"We’re ready to play small basketball when (coach Jeff Hornacek) calls our names and we’re all out there together," Thomas said. "I think it’s dynamic. It’s something we love doing."
Against the Lakers, the victory was especially sweet. Phoenix swept a season series against Los Angeles for the first time since 2004-05 — the year sidelined Lakers guard Steve Nash won his first MVP award with the Suns.
Aside from a four-minute stretch in the fourth when Young rattled off 16 straight Lakers points to put a scare in Phoenix, the defense worked and the offense did enough.
"I thought for a half it was a pretty good game," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "But then at the third quarter we came out pretty good and built it up."
Yet Hornacek, who hoped to rest his rotation players with a difficult stretch upcoming, couldn’t help but put Dragic back in the game to quiet Young with four minutes left and the lead cut to eight. The move was enough to cool down Young, and the Suns’ three-guard trio finished the final four minutes of the game on a 10-3 run.
Thomas tied Dragic and Young with a game-high 24 points in his biggest scoring outing with the Suns, eclipsing a high of 23 that he had reached four times this year.
Neither team led by more than seven points until Thomas connected with forward Brandan Wright on an alley-oop to give Phoenix an 81-73 lead with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. Wright followed with a block less than a minute later that concluded with a Bledsoe transition 3-pointer, helping the Suns finish the third quarter with an 87-77 lead.
"The first half we were kind of not aggressive enough, we fouled too much," Dragic said of Phoenix’s 12 first-half fouls. "But then the third quarter was awesome. We played hard on both ends."
Bledsoe, despite early foul trouble, scored 13 points in the second half and led the team with seven assists on the night.
The point guards combined to shoot 25-for-38 (66 percent) from the floor, score 65 points and tally 16 assists. The guards also produced nine steals, with Thomas’ five leading the team.
That defensive pressure had a bit to do with Phoenix forcing 23 Lakers turnovers and scoring 27 points off those miscues.
"We just didn’t play with an understanding of just how valuable that orange thing is; just throwing the ball all over the place," Lakers coach Byron Scott said.
The big evening from the Suns’ guards distracted from the most recent trade scuttlebutt.
Amid rumors of Miles Plumlee being on the trading block, Hornacek called on the third-year center before the recently-acquired Wright, then elected to play that duo briefly with one another against a beefy frontcourt of Carlos Boozer and Tariq Black.
Before the game, the Suns coach promised it wasn’t about showcasing Plumlee, and he has maintained since the Wright trade that the center would remain in the rotation. Wright, however, was first off the bench in the second half.
The wondering about trade options will take a backseat in the locker room with the Blazers, Rockets, Clippers and Wizards — all of whom have won better than two-thirds of their games — coming up on the schedule.
But on Monday night, the Suns were simply pleased they took care of business with one of their more well-known fans in attendance.
Said Thomas of Mayweather: "Every time he comes it seems like we play good as a team and we get a win, so I’m trying to get him to a few more games."