The Phoenix Suns had their easiest win in a long, long time thank to the Denver Nuggets. The Suns used an aggressive defensive scheme and blinding pace to run over the tired Nuggets who'd just played the night before.
It's not that the Nuggets have been playing badly. They'd won 3 of their last 4 to get over .500 (5-4) and their star rookie Emmanuel Mudiay looks like a younger Eric Bledsoe with even better court vision. But Mudiay had a rough night - partially due to Bledsoe's dogged defense - and the rest of the Nuggets settled for a lot of clanky jumpers.
"We'll take that one," coach Jeff Hornacek said afterwards. "I thought our guys came out in that first half and really challenged every shot. They made it tough, Denver is coming off a back-to-back and we didn't give them any life in the beginning."
The Suns are now over .500 at 5-4 themselves, and are beginning to look like a team ready to take advantage of their early schedule of home games (8 of 11 at home) with the added advantage of getting their opponent on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Suns are now 4-0 against teams on the second night of a back to back, and have 15 more of those coming this season where they are rested against a tired team. One of last year's frustrations was a schedule that did the Suns no favors, often pitting them against more rested teams. This year, the luck of the draw might just be in the Suns' favor.
This team, unlike past Suns teams, is winning with defense fueling the offense. Early in the game, neither team was making their shots and the Suns found themselves down 7-2. But their effort did not waver, and soon the tide turned.
Coach Jeff Hornacek
"When we come out aggressive like that," Hornacek said, "especially on the defensive end, we have a good chance at winning the game. I was proud of our guys as they came out and played like that."
Coach Hornacek had nothing but praise for point guard Eric Bledsoe after the game.
"I think it gives everyone confidence on the team that, ‘Hey, Eric is going to do something with it, be ready.'," Hornacek said. "If they try to close him down then you're going to be wide open and just his confidence he has in the game right now. When he comes down and comes at you and pulls up for that jump shot, now these guys are going to have to come pick him up a little higher and he's just going to drive by them. So he's playing great right now."
Bledsoe has been shooting lights out lately, and now his season averages are at All-Star level. Only two other NBA players are putting numbers rivaling Bledsoe's 23 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game. Their names are LeBron James and Stephen Curry. That's it. Last year, only Curry and Russell Westbrook put those numbers up for an entire season. Throw in Bledsoe's stingy defense and you've got an All-Star season in the making.
"When you just start to be a starter and you start to make your way in this league," coach Hornacek said. "You're worried about what you can do. He is past that stage, he is at the stage where he is looking how our play is developing and how can I get my guys a shot and be open and that's great. That's another level that we need from him and, again, I think he is seeing the game a lot better now and as we move on he sees more of that and our guys understand that he sees it."
"I'm just playing, having fun and playing with my teammates and being aggressive."
The man of few words answered a lot of questions but didn't give a lot of long answers. He did have a couple of light-hearted answers toward the end of the interview though.
Bright Side Night
The only way last night could have gone better for Bright Side Night was a tight win over a hated rival. But that wasn't going to happen against the Nuggets, so a blowout win is the next best thing.
The interview with GM Ryan McDonough was great. He came in at 6:30 to meet a few dozen of our biggest donators, and stayed a full 30 minutes without ever looking like he had somewhere better to be. I really appreciate that. Watch for video later today or tomorrow of McDonough's Q and A.
The Suns printed up a hundred shirts to commemorate the evening, passing them out to the Q and A visitors as well as the kids in the stands.
They also surprised me with my own custom jersey!
That's pretty damn cool!