The Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in a tale of two games. In game one (2.5 quarters), the Suns blew out the listless Cavs, running the lead up to 19 points. In game two (last half of the 4th quarter), the Suns won a tight game against an engaged, desperate Cavs team that wanted a big win to break their losing streak.
The Suns have now won 11 of their last 15 games, including 4 straight at home.
P.J. Tucker said he's finally feeling glimpses of what he did in his first year back in the league, fighting like hell for every rebound and loose ball.
"There was no way I wasn't getting that one," he said to the media in the locker room. "It's like reminiscing my first year in Phoenix, I used to get those all the time. I got to get back to that, you know, really get in there and rebounding on the offensive glass. It's one of those things; it's one of those games where every possession counts."
After the game, Tucker's left elbow was wrapped in ice but he otherwise looked healthy despite a hard fall or two amongst multiple Cavaliers in scrums.
But it took a monumental collapse to even make it a tight game where Tuck had to dig for those rebounds. The Suns had a 19-point lead late in the third quarter when they subconsciously took their foot off the gas and let J.R. Smith get loose for 4 three-pointers in the span of two game minutes (three of those in one minute). Add in a James Jones three and a 19-point lead was suddenly down to 6.
"We knew that it was going to be tough against those guys," Dragic said. "LeBron came back. We played well the first three quarters, we were up 20-something points and then they were coming back and it was nervous for us."
Back came LeBron to try to close out the game against the Suns' starters and he nearly willed them to a victory until Markieff Morris (career-high 35 points, 7 rebounds) became the GOAT and scored several possessions to put the Suns back on top. During that toughest stretch, it was LeBron James guarding Keef, and Keef got the upper hand most of the time.
Morris' 15 field goals on 70% shooting is the first time a Phoenix Sun has reached that milestone since Shaquille O'Neal in 2009, and only the third NBA player to match that kind of game this season (Anthony Davis, LeBron James).
"Markieff (Morris) was awesome," coach Hornacek said. "Especially in that fourth quarter...we had that stretch there where we had a lot of bad things go on. They could've easily quit and stuck their heads down. We just pounded it into Markieff and he came through, play after play. He was huge."
"In the end, we came up with a huge win." Dragic said. "I think that was a must-needed win for us because we lost two in a row and we'll try to get as many wins as we can at home."
**note: Dragic is now averaging 18.9 points per game in his last 22 games.
How did Dragic describe Markieff's play?
"Superstar, allstar, everything," Dragic said without hesitation. "He played unbelievable. He was our force tonight. He made every play that we needed him to do."
"I'll take the challenge on anybody," said LeBron James on guarding Keef during that stretch. "The guy had a heck of a game; I mean obviously a career high for him. We let him get it going early, I tried to turn his water off and he still made a couple of shots. I just try to make it tough. For me, I'm going to make it tough on you. You don't miss more than you make. I believe that: I'm going to work as hard as a I can and make you do things you don't want to do. If you make it, kudos to you but I'm going to give myself the best chance to get a stop."
But back in the locker room, Markieff was not an All-Star. He refused to speak to the media and worked his way through the waiting scrum to prove the point. Julie Fie, the Suns Media Relations Manager, spent five minutes trying to coax Keef to take questions after his career-high night but he was having none of it.
Later, word in the arena was that Keef had been sent to the 'principal's' office. That's just not something you do and get away with.
So no video on Keef after his career-high night. We just have to imagine his grumbly, mumbly responses on our own.
Keef wasn't the only big man to have a big night.
Second-year center Alex Len had another double double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and altered many shots at the rim on defense. He passed well, got a steal and a block too. Timofey Mozgov was taken out of the game early after Len drew fouls on him and scored down low as well.
"Well Alex (Len) is a great passer," coach Hornacek said. "And he understands the High-Low stuff, just catch it. He's long so he can look over guys and Markieff (Morris) did a nice job of sealing. When they tried to do different things on him, he was strong and physical tonight. He didn't settle for just shooting outside jump shots, he mixed it up. He took some jump shots, he took it strong to the basket and that's the mixture we're asking him to look at."
"He's just a kid," Tucker said of Len. "He doesn't even know how to play yet."
Just wait, Murica, till Alex Len knows how to play this game.
*Thanks again to Evan Wendt for editing vids I took last night!