In the last game of their 2 game stint with the Bakersfield Jam, Suns rookies T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis both continued their strong play and were key contributors in the Jam's 112-103 victory over the Grand Rapids Drive.
The Dignity Health Events Center
As this was the first time a BSOTs staff writer has been to the Dignity Health Events Center, home of the Bakersfield Jam, I thought it would be useful to give a little bit of an intro to the facility for potentially curious Suns fans.
Despite being wedged between the airport, the train tracks and the Coroner's Office, the facility is actually quite charming. The Jam claim the arena seats 550, but if so, I don't know where they hide them all. The majority of fans are seated within 15 feet of the court. About half are at court level in court-side seats, while the other half are seated at tables situated on platforms elevated about 4 feet above the court. An additional group of fans can be accommodated in two second level lounges that overlook the court.
The facility itself is about the size of a small hanger or smaller warehouse. Due to its fairly intimate nature, fans get very up close and personal with the players - during timeout entertainment, I saw multiple children sitting court-side participating in on the court activities. To go along with this intimacy, food and table-service was provided to the fans in attendance as part of their admission.
As enticing as this might sound, Suns fans, alas, the Jam do not currently sell single game tickets. We'll keep you updated if this policy ever changes in the future.
Jam vs. Drive
The Jam's opponent for the night was the Grand Rapids Drive, the solo affiliate of the Detroit Pistons. The full game can be seen here, or in the embedded video below.
This was the Drive's opening game of the season, and it came after arguably their best player, Robert Covington, was signed by the 76ers just days ago.
The Jam were led by strong performances from T.J. Warren, Elijah Millsap, Tyler Ennis and Earl Barron. Warren led all scorers with 32 points, and added 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals for a well rounded overall performance. Millsap contributed a double double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Ennis, in just 33 minutes, scored 19 points and dropped 10 assists, while Barron added 15 points and 12 rebounds, including an impressive 3/5 from behind the arc.
The Drive, meanwhile, were led by veteran Josh Bostic, who scored 26 points and also 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Guards Lorenzo Brown and L.D. Williams contributed 14 and 15 points, respectively, while Hasheem Thabeet added 7 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
The first quarter can accurately be described as adjusting to Thabeet. The big man for Grand Rapids established early that starting center Mac Koshwal could not guard him, forcing Koshwal to the bench with 2 fouls after just about 3 minutes of game time. The Jam struggled to come up with a defensive solution to Thabeet, who scored 6 points and had 2 offensive rebounds in the quarter.
The Jam came out shooting poorly, converting just 32.1% of their shots in the first quarter, compared to 50% for the Drive. Warren and Barron were both 2-6, with Barron taking two highly questionable midrange jumpers early in the shot clock. Meanwhile, Jamil Wilson and Xavier Munford were both 0-3. Tyler Ennis found himself in quick foul trouble attempting to guard Lorenzo Brown, something that would be a theme of the night, and wound up on the bench with 2 fouls after playing just under 5 minutes. The lone bright spot in the quarter was Elijah Millsap, who scored 7 points on 3/5 shooting.
The second quarter was the T.J. Warren show. After coming out a little cold and timid in the first, and having two shots altered by Thabeet in the middle, Warren hit all of his shots in the 2nd quarter, including two three pointers. He also hit 3 of 5 free throws, and put up 13 points in the quarter. Perhaps more impressive, his solid man to man defense on Adonis Thomas held the prolific scorer to just 3 points in the first half. Ennis remained quiet and hampered by fouls, while Millsap continued his steady performance.
The Drive managed to shoot themselves in the foot largely in this quarter. The Jam weren't playing all that much better than in the first quarter, but the Drive coughed the ball up 6 times in the quarter and shot pretty poorly, allowing the Jam to erase the 1st quarter deficit. The strongest performer in the quarter for the team was Kammeon Holsey, who had 4 points on 2/2 shooting and had a strong defensive presence.
Warren continued his strong play into the 3rd, particularly his strong defensive play. This was accompanied by the emergence of Ennis, who finally looked comfortable with Dominic Waters defending him. He hit all but one of his shots in the quarter, including 2 from beyond the arc, and scored 10 in the quarter to go along with 2 assists.
The shooting woes continued for the Drive, as Adonis Thomas could not deal with the smothering defense of Wilson and Warren and hit only 1 of his 6 field goal attempts in the quarter. This was accompanied by a general disappearance of Thabeet, who was taken out of the game offensively because of the general inability of the Drive to execute offensive sets, and defensively because of Coach Nate Bjorkgren's half time adjustments, which included running more pick and role sets with Ennis and the Jam bigs.
The Jam put the Drive to rest early in the 4th quarter on the backs of Ennis and Barron, who executed the pick and roll to absolute perfection. Barron was able to hit 2 three pointers in the quarter and generally force Thabeet to leave the key, allowing the rest of the Jam players to score at will against the Drive's porous defense. Barron and Ennis combined for 15 points, and with 8 points from Warren the Jam eventually opened up a 24 point lead.
The Drive generally were unable to adjust, and their shooting problems continued throughout the game. They were able to score on their last handful of drives, but this was after the game was largely decided. One of the deciding factors in the game ended up being the disparity in shooting - the Drive shots just 42.9% overall, and just 30.4% from beyond the arc, while the Jam shot 51.9% and 45.5% from 3 point land.
A Brief Interview with T.J Warren
After the game, T.J Warren was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me despite being hurt and requiring training staff attention (nothing serious, I'm assured).
I asked T.J. about his great three point shooting in his two games with the Jam, and whether this had been a particular point of emphasis for him so far in the season.
"Basketball is my job now," he replied. "I'm working on improving my shot alot, from everywhere." He emphasized that he has been taking a lot of shots in practice from 3.
I also asked T.J about his thumb injury, and whether that had fully healed, as a few times in the game it looked like he had aggravated the injury and was favoring the hand.
He replied, "I'm just getting back into the game, getting into game shape." He stressed that it was a process to get back from an injury, and that he was giving it his all.
Finally, I asked how he hoped to use the strong performance with the Jam as he was called back up to the Suns for their 6 game road trip.
"I'm just gonna stay confident in myself and stay ready," he said. "When my name is called I should be ready."