PHOENIX, Ariz. – Defense may be the focus of first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, but in order to win games the Suns do still need to score.
Enter Gerald Green.
Hornacek turned to the 6-8 swingman, pairing him with Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt given the absence of Goran Dragic, who was sidelined with a sprained left ankle.
Green adapted well to the off guard spot. He scored the team’s first five points and then added another eight straight points late in the second quarter.
“I think that is something that can be a positive and a negative but I just try to make it as positive as I can to help this team win,” Green said of his streaky play.
He finished with 15, tying Bledsoe for team-high honors in the Suns’ preseason home finale, an 88-76 win over the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder in front of 11,526 at US Airways Center.
“He’s a little bit wild out there, but sometimes his wild is really good,” Hornacek said of Green, who made three of four three-pointers.
With Green receiving the start at shooting guard, Marcus Morris got the nod at small forward with the idea of seeing how well he fared against Durant, a match-up that never happened with Durant given the night off.
“I did want that challenge,” Morris said. “Anytime you get to play against an all-star — just to see where you’re at, against the best talent in the world, it’s always a good thing.”
The Suns (3-3) opened up a 21-point lead late in the third quarter and sustained the advantage with strong fourth quarter bench performances from Archie Goodwin and PJ Tucker.
Goodwin missed his first five shots only to rally going four-of-six, including a put-back dunk.
“If you let the last play affect the next plays coming up you’ll never play well,” he said. “No one in this game that has played it has the greatest night every night, so you just have to stay competitive.”
Added Hornacek of Goodwin, who finished with 11 points, “He’s a young player. He’s the youngest guy in the league. He’s going to make some mistakes and we’re just going to have to try to live through some of them because he does a lot of good things out there.”
Tucker scored seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Channing Frye chipped in with 12 and a game-high tying nine rebounds coming off the bench, playing his most minutes (24:38) thus far in the preseason.
“That was the biggest thing is that I want to continue be aggressive on the boards. I still could’ve done a little better job,” he said.
Bledsoe, who was the assist leader on the night with seven, bruised his left thigh in the third quarter and was walking slowly in the locker room.
Markieff Morris, who is promising to bring his mean streak back, picked up a flagrant foul, penalty two, for elbowing Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the third quarter. Morris was ejected, ending the night scoreless (0-for-5 FG) with five rebounds, three fouls and two turnovers.
The Suns close out the preseason at Denver Wednesday.