EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Insignificant game brings Suns one of their best home wins of the season

Apr 5, 2019, 11:01 PM

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)...

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Richaun Holmes, Tyler Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr. and T.J. Warren all did not play in Friday night’s 133-126 overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans, the last home game of the season.

Like the Suns, the Pelicans also fielded only nine players. They were without Anthony Davis, Trevon Bluiett, Jrue Holiday, Frank Jackson, Stanley Johnson, Darius Miller and E’Twuan Moore.

On both sides of the court, you could argue that only Mikal Bridges and Julius Randle figure to play a role of decent importance on their respective teams next year.

But that didn’t stop a great crowd from getting into the game late in crunch time and the Suns players who were active putting in one of the better efforts of the season.

To be fair, the quality of the game did show throughout.

The Pelicans shot 67 percent from the field in the first half, a byproduct of the Suns’ poor defense.

Somehow, the Suns — missing their four leading scorers — managed 133 points. That had a lot to do with only seven team turnovers, a byproduct of the Pelicans’ poor defense.

There was also a meltdown by the Suns late up one, with Josh Jackson fouling at the 23-second mark. The Pelicans missed both free throws only for Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov to get called for a technical foul on one of the strangest plays of the season.

Kokoskov assumed the Suns were getting the rebound so he moved out onto the court where coaches will converse at the beginning of a timeout, which he was getting ready to call. But when a scramble ensued on the rebound and Kokoskov was halfway on the court, he was called for a tech.

The Pelicans made the free throw from that and one miss by each team brought the game to overtime.

Still, let’s not get away from several Suns players having their best outing of the season. And in a game that got very competitive in the second half, which led to Koksokov declaring a tale of two halves from his own team after the game.

Dragan Bender, in what could very well be his last time playing in Phoenix as a member of the Suns, had 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and a staggering seven blocks. He’s the first player this season in the NBA to put up that line and it’s now been done just five times this decade.

“He stepped up tonight and he was very crucial for us to get the win,” Jamal Crawford said of Bender after the game.

Jackson had his season-high of 35 points on 15-of-29 shooting, and surprisingly with zero turnovers. He added nine rebounds, five assists and two steals.

In his first NBA start, Ray Spalding had his first-career double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds. He shattered his previous NBA career-high for points of 12.

We never quite got the game where Crawford gets white hot this season, and while that still wasn’t the case Friday, he scored his season-high with a big 28 points and also provided seven assists.

The Pelicans shot only 34 percent in the second half. That’s a credit to the Suns turning it on defensively and continuing to bring the energy, even when it wasn’t working in the first half and was in the second.

The game’s significance doesn’t change given the result. But that shouldn’t take away from the Suns sending their fans home happy, something they have failed to do a whole lot in the 2018-19 season.

“With it being a trying season, fans needed something to hold onto. What better way than our last home game?” Crawford said.

“Every game matters,” Koksokov said. “That’s why we played this game to win and appreciate our fans coming here and supporting us tonight.”

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