There was some irony that tonight's game came down to the two players, Eric Bledsoe and Gordon Hayward, making plays late in the game that in broad strokes are big time statements going forward past tonight. After Hayward nailed a step-back three to tie the game Bledsoe followed it up (with Hayward guarding him) on a game winning three-pointer leaving only 0.7 seconds on the clock.
"I didn't think he was going to shoot a three," Coach Hornacek said after the game. " I thought he was going to attack, but he saw Hayward playing off of him."
For the most part the first three quarters were largely forgettable as the both teams started off slow and played with very little energy. In fact the first three quarters were very similar to what last years team did consistently with low scoring, sloppy play leading to a tight race to the finish. That should not be confused with good, exciting close basketball, but rather the ladder. More often than not the Suns lost those games last year, but last year they did not have a player like Bledsoe.
"This one was uglier," Coach Hornacek after the game on comparing this to the first game of the season.
Through those first two quarters Bledsoe was 0-3 from the field with more combined turnovers and fouls (6) than points and assists (3). It was not his best performance early on, but the team hung in there behind P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee overall energy.
Those two shouldered the load early and then passed the torch to the newest member of the "Great Debut Club," Dionte Christmas.
After not seeing any action in the season opener it was trial by fire for Christmas in the third quarter as the team needed energy, and more importantly, a healthy guard.
In the waning minutes of the second quarter Goran Dragic collided with Tucker and a few Jazz players causing him to leave the game. He did return after the injury, but in an effort to protect Dragic the team sent him to the back for more tests which led to the official diagnosis of "right facial contusion."
Christmas stepped in not only admirably, but effectively. He scored 7 points in the third quarter sparking the team that, without him, would have finished with 13 points (on 6-19 shooting) and a six point hole.
"Dionte is a guy that brings the energy everyday in practice," Coach Hornacek on trusting Christmas in a crucial spot. "He can shoot the ball, and the way we were shooting the ball I figured, lets put him in and see if he can make some shots for us, and he did."
The confidence that Christmas had rubbed off on Bledsoe as he came in and proved that it is not about the amount of shots you make, but when you make them. For Bledsoe his first field goal came at the 10:28 mark in the fourth quarter. Drive, finish, and-1, putting the Suns up five points.
Here is a chronology of Bledsoe's fourth quarter points after that:
- 4:02 Remaining: Lay-up, and-1, Tie Game (76-76)
- 2:59 Remaining: Three-Pointer, Jazz Lead 80-79
- 2:33 Remaining: Two Free-Throws, Good, Good, Suns Lead 81-80
- 1:34 Remaining: Two Free-Throws, Good, Good, Suns Lead 83-80
- 30.4 Remaining: Two Free-Throws, Miss, Good, Suns Lead 84-81
- 0.7 Remaining: Three-Pointer, Suns Win 87-84
Between the stellar debut of Christmas and the heroics of Bledsoe the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns are 2-0 to start the season. More important, they are exciting to watch and developing before our eyes.
It is early on, but if this is any indication of what kind of coach Jeff Hornacek is and what kind of talent evaluator Ryan McDonough is, this is just the appetizer to what might become a very good team in the near future. This is just a taste, a sampling, and so far it is leaving most people wanting more.