Well, it wasn't pretty and Coach Hornacek is going to have plenty to dig into his guys about come practice time, but the Suns managed to pull out a victory tonight against the Lakers. The game hinged on a particularly impressive series of plays by PJ Tucker. Up 4 with just 41 seconds left in the game, Tucker forced a bad mid-range jumper from Kobe Bryant that missed. After grabbing the rebound, Tucker painted himself into the corner and knocked down a three that deflated the Lakers and ended their chances at the upset.
The Suns were ahead for most of the game, and took their biggest lead in the beginning of the 3rd, when they went up by 11. This was despite relatively uninspired performances from Eric Bledsoe (6 points, 1 block, 1 assist) and Miles Plumlee (2 points, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 7 rebounds), both of whom played only 21 minutes.
The Lakers were able to stick around due to a particularly strong day at the line. The team was awarded 41 free throws, with Jeremy Lin (8), Kobe (9), and Jordan Hill (7) getting a good chunk of their points from the charity stripe. The fouls were concentrated on the wings, with the Morrii and Gerald Green combining for 14 fouls.
The key player for the Suns tonight was undeniably Isaiah Thomas, who continued his strong play off of the bench with a 22 point, 9 assist and 3 steal performance.
It was also Gerald Green's first breakout performance of the season. The ever emotive Green scored 26 points in just 23 minutes, including some absolutely unbelievable alley-oops courtesy of Isaiah Thomas. Those two had a chemistry in this game that simply had not been seen in earlier games.
Markieff had his second double-double of the season with his 23 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists on the night. He was exposed on the defensive block a few times as he was forced to play more center in Coach Hornacek's small ball lineups, but he generally held his own.
Dragic had a ho-hum 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists on 42% shooting. I say ho-hum because it was easy to lose track of Dragic, who sat for a significant chunk of the second half.
Alex Len continued his relatively strong play, though he did not produce much offensively. In 20 minutes he put up 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, but only 2 points. On the defensive end, he was a pretty consistent shot altering presence, forcing more than one miss on a Kobe drive. However, his man defense is still a work in progress, as he was taken to task by Jordan Hill and his fairly impressive post footwork on more than one occasion.
The Suns welcomed back PJ Tucker tonight, and though his stat line was not all that impressive (3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists), it was his defensive sequence that can be credited with stopping the Lakers' comeback.
For all of the little things that the Suns did that allowed the Lakers to stay in the game, the Lakers should be credited with putting together one of their better performances of the season. Kobe managed to score 39 points (on 37 shots...) and grab 9 boards, while Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin and Hill combined for 46 points. But the bench scoring simply wasn't there for the Lakers, with all other players combining for just 21 points. And as the game began to wind down, so did Kobe's patience - with under 2 minutes to play and his team down, Kobe could be found on two offensive possessions in a row crowding Lin, drawing his defender into the ball-handler and breaking down whatever semblance of an offensive set that had existed.
The Suns likely won't be entirely happy with their close victory over a team they had just recently beaten by 20. The next game is tomorrow night, when the team takes on Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies at US Airways Center.