LAS VEGAS – As far as first impressions go, yes, the Suns pushed the ball up the court and yes, they played aggressive defense. They just took their time getting there.
“We’ll take the first half away, but the second half was good,” said a smiling Jeff Hornacek, who won his summer league head coaching debut 82-69 over the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Suns appeared out of sync at the onset, with no better example than Markieff Morris committing three fouls in the first three minutes.
A case of the jitters is how Hornacek described the first two quarters, which saw the Suns shoot 29.7 percent, going into the locker room trailing, 35-32.
“But the second half was great,” he said. “They were aggressive defensively. Offensively, we moved the ball much better and we pounded the glass. We just played aggressive.
“We came out in that second half and said, ‘We’re going to win this game’ and that’s what those guys did.”
Morris, despite the foul trouble (he finished with eight fouls, two short of disqualification), paced the Suns with 18 points (7-of-15, including 1-4 from 3).
Marcus Morris scored 14, while rookie Archie Goodwin finished with 13, 11 coming in the second half.
“I wouldn’t say nervous, more so a little anxious the first half,” said Goodwin, who played the second half with the ball more in his hand after opening the game alongside Kendall Marshall. “The second half I really calmed down and had a really good half; just got to keep that momentum going in to our next game.”
Goodwin, whom the Suns moved up a spot to grab with the 29th overall pick in last month’s draft, made 4-of-6 free throws, showing a willingness to get to the basket.
His defense was on display as well though what appeared to be clean block early in the third quarter was called a foul, drawing some animated protest from Markieff Morris, who was promptly whistled for a technical foul.
“It was great defense,” said Morris. “The ref saw it different. I think when I got that technical foul I think that really juiced us up for sure.”
The Suns forced 10 turnovers in the second half, turning many into easy scoring opportunities either with a basket in the paint or a wide open jumper on the perimeter.
“The game is a lot easier when you play that way,” Hornacek said. “The second half they did a great job of rolling to the open spot, guys hit them with passes and they knocked the shots down.”
The Suns shot 60 percent in the second half, when they had eight of their 13 assists.
One of the more eye-opening performances was from 6-foot-9 Arinze Onuaku of Syracuse. He grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with seven points in 17:20.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Hornacek said. “He did a nice job for us getting those boards.”
The Suns (1-0) play Minnesota Monday afternoon.