PHOENIX – Making his way towards reporters after practice, Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe was all smiles.
Quite the contrast from the night before.
Frustrated with the officials and a lack of calls being made to the benefit of him and his teammates, Bledsoe picked up a pair of technical fouls in the last two minutes of the third quarter, the second triggering an automatic ejection with 30 seconds left.
“We were getting beat up on the other end, and then when I busted my lip they called a jump ball, so that pretty much did it,” he said, still with some dried blood in the middle of his lower lip thanks to a Kobe Bryant forearm to the face.
Bledsoe said he tried to maintain his composure, but instead unleashed his anger with a swift kick to the scorer’s table, which earned him a one-way trip back to the locker room where he watched the Suns finish off the Los Angeles Lakers, 119-99, in the regular season opener.
“I let it get out of hand, but it happens,” he said on Thursday. “Good thing I wasn’t playing bad. We got the win.”
Behind Bledsoe, the Suns jumped quickly in front of the Lakers, leading by double figures just seven minutes into the game. Bledsoe set the tone with five points, three rebounds and four assists, with the first two setting up dunks for center Miles Plumlee.
“First game and this probably dictates what happens later on down the line, so I wanted to come out and put the emphasis on this game,” Bledsoe said, “showing everybody that we’re going to make the playoffs this year.”
Bledsoe ended game one of his second Suns season with 16 points, six rebounds and a game-high nine assists with only one turnover in 26 minutes. He took just seven shots, making five, including three of his four three-point attempts. He also knocked down all three of his free-throw attempts.
Bledsoe’s ability to hit the three should provide the Suns with even more spacing on the offensive end.
“The defense kept giving me the shot, so I was going to shoot with confidence. And that’s what I’ve been working on all summer. It’s paying off,” he said. “I’m very confident. I put in the work this summer. I’m looking forward to taking that next step.”
Regarding the ejection, Bledsoe said he’ll be more poised in the future, though his head coach liked the reaction, easily the most emotion Bledsoe had shown, at least publicly, since arriving in Phoenix.
“The only thing I said to him is don’t take it to a level where you get suspended for a game,” Jeff Hornacek said, adding a laugh at the end. “He’s smart about it. He knows. He knew we were up 25 points or whatever and it was almost the fourth quarter. But I like the intensity. We don’t want to get carried away with it, but sometimes you got to show the referees and around the league that, ‘Hey, I’m one of these (star) players, too.’ So I didn’t mind it at all.”
Whatever the reason, whether it’s the new contract or just feeling more comfortable in his surroundings, Bledsoe is taking on more of a leadership role this season while letting his actions do most of the talking.
“He’s still not going to be the most vocal guy of directing guys,” Hornacek said. “John Stockton, he’d talk to guys but it wasn’t all the time. It was by example. What I told Eric is his example of how hard he went out there to start that game on both ends of the court is the example all the guys feed off of.”
Said Bledsoe, “Whatever it takes to win, I’m going to go out there and do it.”