Despite being one of the younger teams in the league, fatigue settled in for the Phoenix Suns as they struggled out of the gate against the San Antonio Spurs and ultimately fell, 98-84.
Without Eric Bledsoe in the game, Markieff Morris stepped up for arguably the first time all season long and posted a season-high 28 points to go along with 8 rebounds in 34 minutes. He made 12-of-15 shot attempts and was able to convert from all over the court, whether it be inside the paint, in the mid-range or from beyond the arc.
But overall, the Suns' struggles with turnovers plagued them against a savvy veteran Spurs squad. Despite solid shooting efficiency, few teams will find a way to win after committing 28 turnovers. Additionally, the Suns were slow to get into their offense, often only setting up with nine or 10 seconds left on the shot clock and relying on isolation plays.
The team did muster up some energy in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 26-23 and at one point cutting their deficit from 18 points to five. That happened after they were able to force turnovers on defense and capitalize in transition, something that the Suns have specialized in for as long as most of us can remember.
Unfortunately, that level of energy was unsustainable on the second night of a back-to-back. The Suns struggled both out of the gate and again in the fourth quarter, and although they tried to ramp up the pace and score in transition they were too sloppy with the basketball to claw their way back into the game.
Brandon Knight had a solid game in the absence of his backcourt partner Bledsoe, scoring 18 points and posting eight assists but also committing eight turnovers. Knight is already a turnover-prone guard, and having the Spurs defense focus in on him from the beginning of the game didn't help. Rookie Devin Booker started in Bledsoe's place, posting four points and four rebounds in 24 minutes on 2-of-5 shooting.
The Spurs were missing star free-agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge, but the rest of the team played typical Spurs basketball. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists, and the starting backcourt of Danny Green and Tony Parker abused the Suns with a combined 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting.
This would have been a hard game to win even with Eric Bledsoe, and it was obvious that without him the team's offense simply became stagnant. On the bright side, Markieff Morris finally stepped up. To put his game into perspective, Morris outscored all of Tucker, Chandler, Booker and Knight combined. With Chandler and Tucker putting so much emphasis on defense, the Suns struggle to get things going when one of the star guards goes down. Again, the Spurs are a particularly tough opponent, but this game may have been evidence that a successful 2015-16 season campaign will rely heavily on the healthy of both Bledsoe and Knight.
In the meantime, T.J. Warren should continue to get praise. Warren scored 16 points and added three rebounds off the bench in 26 minutes, shooting 7-of-15 from the field. At this point Warren already seems to have solidified himself as a 3rd or 4th scoring option in the team's offense, behind both Knight and Bledsoe and arguably behind Morris.
Finally, Mirza Teletovic's recent resurgence should be given some attention as well. Mirza gave the team nine points and six rebounds in 22 minutes tonight, knocking down three of his four three-point attempts. Mirza is now averaging 10.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over his last six outings while shooting 17-of-37 (46 percent) from deep.
The Suns now get to return home for a couple of games, but they'll still need to be on their toes. Their next game is once again against the New Orleans Pelicans, although this team Tyreke Evans may be returning. Then they'll take on the defending champion and 15-0 Golden State Warriors on Friday.