Suns Strokes: Behind Thomas, Len and Markieff, Phoenix grinds out win over Spurs
Welcome to the Western Conference.
The real grind of the 82-game regular season began for the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the U.S. Airways Center, and they passed their first test.
Phoenix improved to 2-0 with a 94-89 win over the San Antonio Spurs behind the efforts of the smallest and tallest players on the court.
In a game when the Suns shot 40 percent from the field, including 2-of-18 from 3-point range, it was the 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas who was able to get into the teeth of the Spurs’ defense, breaking it down off the dribble.
Thomas scored 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting, with all ten of his makes coming in the paint. His ability to make a variety of tough floaters and finish over the Spurs’ bigs at the rim was the top source of Suns offense.
At the other end of the spectrum, second-year, 7-foot-1 center Alex Len had his most impactful game to date. Len posted a career high in minutes (32) and points (10 — all in the first half).
Despite not scoring after halftime, Len’s presence was felt. He grabbed two offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter and had a tip-out to create another extra possession. His drop-off pass for a Markieff Morris dunk gave Phoenix a 5-point lead with just over a minute left.
Defensively, Len’s length gave big man Tim Duncan and the other Spurs players attacking the rim fits. With 11 rebounds Friday, the Maryland product finished with his first career double-double.
Markieff Morris was the complement Thomas needed in the fourth quarter offensively. Morris scored eight of his 20 points and grabbed four of his 11 rebounds in his final nine minutes on the court. All 27 fourth-quarter Suns points came from Markieff, Thomas, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.
This can be construed as good or bad: The Suns were able to win despite Goran Dragic and Bledsoe combining to shoot 7-for-25 from the field. Miles Plumlee had another poor effort, shooting 2-of-6 from the floor and piling up four fouls in less than 15 minutes.
STAT OF THE GAME
Thomas is just the fourth Suns player in franchise history to score at least 23 points in his first two games with the team, joining Tom Gugliotta, A.C. Green and Tom Chambers.
HE SAID IT
“I think it puts a lot of pressure on teams with who they’re going to guard. We found the hot guy. Isaiah was playing really well and made some big plays there. When you have Goran and Eric out there, if they’re not on the ball, the other team has to at least stay with those guys, so it allows you to attack three on two if you set a good screen.” -Suns coach Jeff Hornacek on the Suns’ three-point-guard look, which they employed periodically throughout the game
The Suns came back after trailing by 15 points for the first time this season. They did it five times last season.
Phoenix has defeated the Spurs in two of their last three meetings after losing eight of their previous nine matchups.
The Suns are 2-0 for the second straight season, and it’s the 12th time they’ve accomplished the feat. They made the playoffs in 10 of the previous 11 times they opened 2-0, with their only miss coming last year.
The Suns will close out their first back-to-back set of games and will go on the road for the first time this season when they head to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Tip-off in is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. and pregame starts 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.