Just a few days ago, everything that could go wrong for the Suns would.
The stats backed up the fact this Phoenix team had struggled in late-game situations, but for the second time in a row, Jeff Hornacek’s team won by getting things done in the final seconds.
For a franchise record seventh straight outing, the Suns found themselves in a game decided by five or less points, winning 107-104.
The victory came after Mirza Teletovic’s buzzer-beating shot in Chicago two days ago.
It would appear luck is back on Phoenix’s side.
For proof, take the fact that, with the Suns leading 106-104 with 27 seconds left, the Magic came out of a timeout with the ball on the side. Just as Brandon Knight had dribbled off his foot two games back against Memphis, when Jeff Green’s out-of-a-timeout alley-oop dunk won the game, Orlando guard Elfrid Payton lost control and turned it over when the ball went into the backcourt.
When the Suns were fouled to stop the clock on their ensuing possession, Eric Bledsoe missed 1-of-2 free throws, keeping the Magic a three-point shot away from tying the game.
Orlando got two more cracks at tying the game.
Victor Oladipo, a 25-percent three-point shooter who like his team was uncharacteristically hot from deep all night long, missed an open three when Knight took a wide turn chasing the Magic guard over a screen.
The Suns tipped the rebound out and when Orlando inbounded, center Alex Len switched onto guard Evan Fournier across a screen — as he should. The referees, probably correctly, swallowed their whistles as Fournier attempted to draw contact with the Suns big man, who smartly stood straight up to avoid the foul call.
So yeah, the Suns dodged a few bullets. They won’t be complaining about much following too many painful losses over the course of their road trip.
Still there’s work to be done in the clutch.
Hornacek and crew can at least rest assured the basketball gods aren’t working against them.
SUNS TEAMMATES LOOK FOR LEN
Last week, I wrote that Alex Len looked lost on offense. It wasn’t necessarily his fault nor a sign he won’t have a place there any time soon,
Rather, it was a time to point out Len didn’t look quite comfortable.
Well, his 20-point, 14-rebound performance against a very good center in Nikola Vucevic showed that the Suns aren’t blind to the fact they hadn’t been giving him much responsibility on offense.
After the game, Hornacek mentioned Len’s confidence had grown. That’s important, but there’s no way that grows if Phoenix didn’t make some changes outside of the young center’s control.
Namely, the Suns were getting him the ball.
Len is always one to defer credit, but what he told the present media stood out nonetheless.
“I’ve got to give credit to my teammates. They were looking for me the whole night. I was setting screens and getting them open, finding open looks and finding them in those pick-and-roll situations,” he said. “I was just trying to go to the boards, do the dirty work. My teammates, almost everybody hit me one time today: P.J., Bled(soe), Brandon, they always look for me and I’ve got to give credit to them.”
To the point in the article from last week regarding Len’s struggles to catch the ball and finish, there were improvements on Wednesday.
Sure, Orlando’s defense wasn’t exactly sinking in to stop Len — he had lots of space and time to make catches on late passes — but Hornacek could see positive signs from the big man.
“There were times that it looked like he was kind of plodding along, but these last three games, he’s able to jump,” the Suns coach said. “When he takes it to the basket, it’s not like guys are coming over and blocking it, he’s going right over the top of it. I think just his feet and maybe his ankles, maybe they all feel good right now. When he’s got that spring I think he feels confident and he can take it to the basket and still finish.”
And yeah, Len was also alert enough not to jump into Fournier on that last shot.
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