Suns Strokes: Suns fall again despite Brandon Knight’s strong home debut
It had been 13 days since the Phoenix Suns last played in the Valley.
And while one-third of the roster had changed since then, the on-court result did not.
To make matters worse, one of those players they traded away, came back to spoil the home debut of newcomer Brandon Knight.
Isaiah Thomas scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Boston Celtics to a 115-110 victory in front of 17,076 at US Airways Center.
“It feels good to beat the team that traded you away,” he said.
Thomas, who received a mostly positive reaction from the crowd when he checked in midway through the first quarter, missed his first three shots. He finished 6-of-16, including 3-of-8 from three-point range.
It was the three-point shot that allowed Boston (21-33) to jump out in front and maintain the lead for much of the game.
The NBA’s fifth-worst shooting team from beyond the arc hit 10 of its first 14 attempts, including 6-of-9 in a season-best and Suns’ opponent high 41-point second quarter. That shooting carried the Celtics to a 67-50 advantage at halftime.
The deficit ballooned to 20 before the Suns (29-28) began to chip away, but the hole they had dug was too much to overcome and by game’s end they had lost for the fifth straight time and the eighth time in their last nine contests.
In his home debut and first start, Knight scored 20 points to go along with four assists. He was one of six Suns players to reach double figures.
Three players finished with double-doubles: Eric Bledsoe (21 points and 10 assists), P.J. Tucker (13 points and 12 rebounds) and Alex Len (10 points and 12 rebounds).
Four points, three rebounds and one blocked shot in the game’s first six minutes for Len. He finished the opening period with six points, the final basket coming on a seven-foot running back jump shot in the lane.
Len added three more blocks and an even more impressive offensive play in the third quarter. After a Bledsoe steal, Len dribbled three-quarters of the court, finishing with an emphatic slam, which pulled the Suns to within six, 77-71, at 5:43.
The Len dunk capped a 16-2 Suns run in which Knight and Tucker each scored six points. Knight hit two threes, while Tucker went reverse lay-up, fast break lay-up and 2-of-2 from the foul line plus a steal for good measure.
Len posted his seventh double-double of the season and tied his career-high for the third time since Jan. 2 with six blocks.
Bledsoe added seven rebounds to his ninth double-double of the season and 16th of his career. Over his last three games, Bledsoe is averaging 15.3 points, 8.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds.
Tucker extended his run of scoring in double figures to a season-best four straight games in which he is averaging 15.3 points to go along with 8.5 rebounds after his second double-double of the season.
Archie Goodwin scored 10 points for his career-long third-straight double-digit scoring game. He becomes the first Suns player 20-or-younger to score 10-plus in at least three straight games since Amar’e Stoudemire in the first six games of 2003-04.
Avery Bradley eclipsed his season scoring average in the first quarter. He made all five of his field goal attempts, including a pair of threes, plus hit two free throws for a total of 14 points. Bradley, who entered the game averaging 13.8 points per game, scored eight straight Celtics points to give Boston a 23-13 lead at 3:49.
Brandon Bass picked up the scoring in the second quarter. He made all four of his field attempts plus went 3-of-4 from the foul line for a total of 11 points. At the half, Bass had a game-high 15 points (five more points than he had been averaging per game entering the day).
The Suns starting backcourt of Bledsoe and Knight committed seven of the team’s 10 first-half turnovers. Knight accounted for four, two in each quarter. His fourth turnover came amid a 22-10 Celtics run which put Boston ahead 60-41 at 4:53.
The Suns during one stretch of the third quarter missed 13 straight shots, going more than four minutes without a basket. Goodwin’s two-foot lay-up ended the drought at 1:30, but not before the Celtics had increased their lead to double figures, 84-72.
Thomas went on a personal 6-0 run with a four-point play and reverse lay-up with 40.9 remaining to push the Celtics lead back to seven points, 107-100. For Thomas, who also had a team-high seven assists, it marked his 18th 20-point performance of the season and second in two games with Boston.
Though he dished out six assists, one shy of a season-high, Markieff Morris scored just seven points, giving him back-to-back games of single-digit production—for only the second time this season—in which he is shooting 25 percent from the field (6-of-24).
STAT OF THE GAME
9-of-32 and 14-of-29: The Suns three-point shooting as compared to the Celtics, who made only 4-of-12 in the second half
HE SAID IT
“When you get down 20, you’re fighting an uphill battle the whole game. I think at the beginning of the game, you should focus on nothing but defense — really get after it defensively and get yourself going and then maybe you get some easy buckets and get going that way, get some confidence. But the aggressiveness has to start at tipoff. For whatever reason, our starts are slow.” — Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek
The Suns held a lead but once, 2-0 at 10:50 of the first quarter, and trailed for 45:49 of the 48-minutes played
The Suns had three players record double-doubles in the same game for the first time since Feb. 18, 2014 at Denver when Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris and Tucker all did.
Earl Barron (two points, one rebound and on assist in 3:55) and Marcus Thornton (three points on 1-5 shooting in 8:00) each made their Suns debut in the first half.
Gerald Green was a DNP-Coach’s Decision for the second time in 10 games; though Hornacek said he wanted to play him but couldn’t find him in the second quarter after Green went back into the locker room.
Once again it’s a short stay at home.
The Suns will head to Denver to play the Nuggets on Wednesday, Feb. 25. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
It’s the third and final matchup of the season with the series tied, 1-1.
The Suns won the first meeting, 120-112, but then dropped a 122-97 decision two days later at Pepsi Center. Arron Afflalo, since traded to Portland, scored a game-high 22 points for a Nuggets team that never trailed and led by as many as 31 points.
Prior to that matchup, the Suns had won five straight against the Nuggets, including a series sweep last season.