PHOENIX, Ariz. – Fearless.
It’s been the one word used to consistently describe Marquese Chriss, the Phoenix Suns’ No. 8 overall pick.
Here in the preseason, Chriss, listed at 6-10 and 230 pounds, has come face-to-face with players taller, bigger, stronger and certainly more experienced, yet not once has he backed down from the challenge.
The latest example occurred in the Suns’ 112-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night in front of an announced crowd of 12,209 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Fighting for position underneath the Suns basket early in the second quarter, Chriss got tangled up with Andrew Bogut, their arms interlocked. As they tried to separate, Chriss appeared to push Bogut, who had lost his balance and subsequently tumbled to the floor.
Bogut, two inches taller, 30 pounds heavier, 12 years Chriss’ senior and notoriously known as a tough player, didn’t appreciate the added physicality. He sprang to his feet and charged towards Chriss, only to be slowed by Wes Matthews pulling his jersey. Others eventually jumped in-between the two.
Through it all, Chriss never flinched.
“I wasn’t intimated or anything. I wasn’t going to back down. I am who I am,” he said. “I just try to play aggressive and if it pisses some people off, it happens, but I’m just going to keep playing my game and just stay true to who I am.”
Both Chriss and Bogut received technical fouls.
“He held his ground,” forward Jared Dudley said of his 19-year-old teammate. “He didn’t let it phase his game because some rookies might come in and get into the game emotionally and it might throw you off, maybe do a bad foul. But, he stuck with it, had a great game, offensively and defensively. It’s about us making strides, and he did that today.”
The play highlighted a rough-and-tumble, and, at times, chippy affair between a pair of teams that will meet four times during the regular season, including once in Mexico City on Jan. 12.
Playing center, Chriss flourished with 17 points, six rebounds, one assist, two steals and four blocks in 34 minutes. Among his seven made field goals were a trio of 3s and a pair of dunks, showing off both the range and athleticism the Suns coveted to strike a draft-night trade with Sacramento to acquire Chriss.
“Marquese Chriss is just a multi-dimensional player,” head coach Earl Watson said. “We said in the draft, he was a player that can play above the rim and shoot the 3. That’s very rare. He has the power and the finesse, and hasn’t showed it yet but he can handle the ball like a small forward.”
Injuries to Tyson Chandler and Alex Len forced Watson to start Chriss at center against the 7-foot, 260-pound Bogut, an 11-year pro.
“I’m comfortable enough with it,” Chriss said. “I think, (with) the way we play, it’s easy for me switch positions back-and-forth.”
— In addition to Chandler (hamstring) and Len (back spasms) being sidelined, the Suns played without guards Devin Booker (right ankle sprain) and John Jenkins (abdominal strain). P.J. Tucker (back surgery) still has yet to see any action in the preseason.
The Mavericks were minus forward Quincy Acy (right foot sprain) and guard Jose Juan Barea (rest).
— Some other notable Suns performances from the fifth preseason game: Eric Bledsoe matched Chriss for team-high scoring honors with 17 points plus he added two rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Tyler Ulis scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Alan Williams grabbed nine rebounds in 13 minutes; while Brandon Knight, who got the start with Booker out, missed six of his 10 shot attempts and committed five fouls in 25 minutes.
— Entering play on Friday, the Suns ranked No. 26 in 3-point shooting percentage this preseason, hitting at a 28.8 percent clip. Watson waved off any concern, pointing to injuries and the irregular lineups that have seen the floor here in the preseason.
“You can’t look at those numbers offensively. Defensively tells a different tale,” he said. “Defensively, guys can all play defense as effective as the next guy. So, that is what we focus on. When we get our regular rotation back and we can get guys healthy, we are going to start looking at offensive numbers and see how we should play.”
The Suns made 13 of their 33 attempts from beyond the arc against the Mavericks.