Suns rise to another level, blow out Raptors
PHOENIX — Embracing a trend that has defined their season, the Suns spent another evening at home playing to the level of their competition.
But with the Toronto Raptors in town on Sunday, reaching — and exceeding — what the visitors brought was more than recommended. See, even though the Raptors (now 24-10) arrived with a two-game losing streak, they still checked in as the second seedin the Eastern Conference.
So, with their work cut out for them, the Suns showed up with purpose, ran away early and cruised to a 125-109 victory at US Airways Center.
Having won eight of its last 10 games, Phoenix now sits at 20-16, and four games above .500 for the first time this season.
"I think it’s a case of our guys kind of getting’ in a groove, I think," coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Although this feelin’-groovy, 8-2 stretch coincides with moving Alex Len into the starting lineup, Hornacek views the uprising as a rotation-wide event.
"I think we’re just playing better overall with all our guys," he said.
The Suns’ night of fun finished with 34 fast-break points and 30 via Toronto’s 21 turnovers.
The overall blitzkrieg included a 43-point second quarter during which the Suns shot 78 percent and which represents their highest output for any quarter this season. It also pushed their total to 70 at intermission and was followed by a game-high, 28-point lead in the fourth.
In a league that typically includes at least one rally from the losing team in a blowout, the Raptors never made much of a dent.
"A lot of times we’ll get up by 15, 16 then we kind of put it on cruise control for a little bit," Hornacek said, "and let it get back down to 8 or 10 and then we go again. But they had the foot on the gas the whole night.
"If they play like that, we’re going to win a ton of games and have a chance."
The Raptors, who were crushed by the Warriors in Oakland on Friday night, were at the end of an extended trip out West and again were without standout guard DeMar DeRozan.
But Hornacek was quick to defend this particular rout as little more than a continued surge by his team.
"No, we played great for the last 11 games now, I think," he said when asked if the road variable was the biggest reason for the Raptors’ demise. "We want to prove we’re one of the good teams. Unfortunately, we’re in the West. What are they in, first or second in the East? We could’ve won that game by 40 if we left our starters in. So they played great."
The roll call of greatness included another outstanding collaboration between Eric Bledsoe (20 points, eight assists) and Goran Dragic (18 points, six rebounds), who combined to knock in 15 of 23 shots from the field.
"We jumped on them early and I think we played some good defense," Dragic said. "We scored a lot of points in transition, we could get inside the paint and when you put the ball on the floor and get in the middle of the paint, you have a lot of options."
One of those was Len, who was matched against a toughie in Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas and did enough early to keep the Suns somewhat balanced. He finished with 10 points, making 5 of 6 shots from the field.
Off the bench, Isaiah Thomas (6 of 10 from the field, 3 of 5 from 3-point range) provided 18 points. Gerald Green (11), Marcus Morris (10) and Miles Plumlee (nine points, seven rebounds) also had their moments.
The fourth-quarter cushion was soft enough for Hornacek to provide some burn for youngsters Archie Goodwin, Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren. Goodwin made terrific use of his 8:55 by scoring a dozen points. His total included an electrifying, fast-break punctuating tomahawk dunk over the 7-foot Valanciunas.
"It was pretty good," Hornacek said. "Archie’s long, he can jump and when he gets space to move and fly like that … you know, we see it in practice. He does stuff like that."
Still penciled in as the Western Conference’s eighth seed, the Suns must continue this groove with four consecutive road games.
With stops in Memphis and San Antonio at the end, playing to the level of that competition seems like the way to go.
"Well we’re young," Hornacek said. "You’d like to say, ‘Hey, get fired up for every game,’ but I think they see the talent, they see themselves as equals to any of these teams. When they play them, now they want to prove it."