The Phoenix Suns hadn't played a game against another team since mid April, and hadn't beaten anyone since early April. So getting a win, even in preseason, was a nice catharsis and likely helped the players sleep better last night.
It was the Suns bench that carried the team to the 102-98 win, after the starters were killed 32-15 in the first quarter.
"I thought our bench guys played great," coach Hornacek said. "Every guy that came in off the bench played hard, did the things we asked them."
Coach didn't just leave it at that. He wasn't happy about the way the starters came out.
"They need to get some work," he said. "We stressed pressure defense—get after guys. We started off the game, gave them four three-pointers that were half-contested. The first group, they'll get better, but the bench guys came in and really played hard. We're going to need that all year."
The starters had a hard time getting into the flow in the first game, while the Kings looked in midseason form. It helped that the Kings made most of their threes (6 of 9) to force the Suns out from the paint a bit defensively.
"They were a little ahead of us," Chandler said of this being the Kings second game. "Once we came back in the third quarter, that's when we got going."
Rudy Gay had a great game for the Kings, making 7 of 8 threes to collect 30 points in short minutes.
Jon Leuer the GOAT
The bench unit was led by T.J. Warren (17 points) and Jon Leuer (17 points, 13 rebounds). Hornacek might have been the least surprised person in the building with Leuer's excellent all-around game.
"Jon has played well all training camp," he said. "He's out there trying to earn minutes. He'll continue to play. That's how Jon plays. He's just solid. He does the right things. We know Mirza will make the shots, we know Markieff will make the shots, but when they're not, Jon will be in there."
Leuer brought the fans and his teammates to their feet with his breakaway slam over DeMarcus Cousins, who likely wishes he hadn't made the attempt to contest Leuer's shot.
jon leuer dunked on dmc https://t.co/RJ1HdbJQ9t— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) October 8, 2015
"I saw DeMarcus Cousins coming," Leuer recounted. "And I just tried to go up as hard as I could because I know he's a big guy and a good athlete. I'm fortunate that I came out on the right end of it."
Morris (2-13) and Teletovic (1-11) made a combined 3 shots in 24 attempts over 37 minutes of playing time, so thank goodness Jon Leuer came to the rescue.
Leuer was the talk of the locker room after the game.
"He played great," Brandon Knight said. "Since I've played against him in the league, he's been a solid player. He's here for a reason. He's been solid all throughout training camp. That's what we expect from him so I'm sure as he gets the minutes and as he gets time, that's what you'll see from him."
"I haven't seen that since I've been here," Tyson Chandler said with a chuckle of Leuer's aggressiveness one-handed dunk in transition.
Chandler was the team's best cheerleader on the bench as the elder statesman on the team sat for much of the game. He said his favorite part of the game was the BENCH'S reaction to Leuer's slam dunk, which occurred right in front of them.
"Just not his dunk," he said, "But I liked everybody's reaction to his dunk because that shows everybody's engaged and rooting for one another."
I caught up with Mirza to check on his health. He'd been slowed most of training camp with the flu, and making just 1 of 11 attempts might have been a product of that.
But Mirza, for one, wasn't worried about his poor shooting.
Passing and sharing
The Suns are really stressing sharing the ball this year, to the point that they haven't even practiced their bread-and-butter with the pick and rolls yet. Hornacek said that Markieff will look more comfortable once they put that in, as will most of the guys. But he wants them passing more first, which was clearly evident in the game.
"We haven't even put in our high pick and roll stuff that we like to run for Bled and Brandon," Hornacek said. "We are trying to get them to execute the motion stuff."
Brandon Knight talked about it.
"We haven't put in a good amount of things that we'll probably run," he said. "We put in a lot of motion stuff to make sure everyone has a chance to touch the ball. I'm sure as we go further along, we'll get into our package that we'll really use. Of course in preseason, you don't want to tip your hand and show, teams already know what we're going to do, but you don't want to show too much too early."
It's too early to see if any of this will stick once the games start, but coach seems dead set on getting the guys to play more as a five-man unit rather than a bunch of isolations. Players like Sonny Weems, Devin Booker and Jon Leuer will go a long way toward that goal if the first preseason game is any indication. Even Teletovic passed the ball well, despite being a pure shooter and someone you really, really want shooting the ball on the catch when he gets open.