The Phoenix Suns played a strong second half, outscoring the Knicks by 25 points after trailing by 11 points in the first quarter and again by 9 halfway through the second quarter.
First Archie Goodwin and then Eric Bledsoe brought the necessary energy to pick up a lagging Suns unit still reeling from a late loss to Atlanta on Friday night.
"We were low on energy coming out and that's what happens when you underestimate your opponent," Archie Goodwin said. "Which I feel like we kind of did in the first quarter or so. Towards the end of the second quarter I think we got it going and we started really playing hard and we started respecting them and I think that's why we ultimately won."
Coach Jeff Hornacek talked about Bledsoe's energy making a difference. Bledsoe keyed an 8-point comeback to pull the Suns to 48-47, capped by a big dunk in the halfcourt over Cole Aldrich.
"I just kept attacking," Bledsoe said. "I have been doing it all season long, just keep attacking. I had some turnovers, but at the end of the day, I thought we played as a team."
Bledsoe finished just one rebound shy of a triple double, with 21 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds. He's had two triple-doubles this season (one of only six NBA players with 2+) and four more near-misses.
"Not a lot of guys can go to that level," Hornacek said. "He can do that. Obviously as the years go on, the more he does that under control the better. It puts the defense on a - they are backpedaling, they are helping off of guys then our other guys get easy shots. That's what we need from him is to just draw the defense to him and find our open guy."
Bledsoe opening comment was in reference to a question on his slam at the end of the half.
"You know, I mean, it was just one of those plays that just happened," he said with a chuckle. "I wasn't intending on going to the rim like that, but it just happened. I just try to be aggressive."
We take for granted, sometimes, just how talented Eric is. You know a guy is good when he has a near triple double and we're not even batting an eye.
Bledsoe was being aggressive all night, including getting rebounds. Twice he tracked the missed shot halfway across the floor and swooped in to take it, and just so happened to have swooped in front of his own man. Once, P.J. Tucker was a swoopee, and as Bledsoe took off down the court, P.J. laughed toward the Suns bench with a "wtf lol" kind of look.
Once again, Archie looked like a real NBA player out there. He still can't hit a jumper with regularity, but he's been patient and attacking at the same time.
"He's aggressive," Bledsoe said of Archie, who he called a little brother last year. "He's not going to let anybody change his game. He always comes in and plays hard and he just tries to be the hardest player out there, you know, out there working."
Archie is feeling it enough to even make himself available for post-game interviews, something that must be quite a relief for him after sitting or nearly two seasons behind a stacked roster of guards.
"Definitely," he said of getting more comfortable out there. "With experience comes rewards, I guess is what you say. If you continue to get more playing time, I get used to things and I get to see things develop more and it's helping me out."
Goodwin was 3-10 from the field, with most of his shots coming at the rim as the attacked the basket. He only drew shooting foul call once, despite being on the floor nearly as much as Bledsoe.
"If I could just get a freakin' call," he said with a laugh. "It's making my field goal percentage look bad. I can't get a whistle. I guess it's because I'm young, but I can't get a whistle right now."
In his first start in nearly two years, Brandan Wright showed why some (including the Suns GM) say he's the best backup center in the NBA. Wright has a really good feel as the roll man on the pick-and-roll, and he used that skillset to make 7 of 8 field goal attempts against the Knicks struggling front line.
"Well with their starting line up," Hornacek said of giving Wright the start. "(Lou) Amundson is a good size for him to go up against. We were going to put Markieff (Morris) on (Andrea) Bargnani anyway and we knew (Cole) Aldrich was coming off the bench so thought that would be a good match-up for Earl (Barron) and his size."
Wright is best as a roll man, and feels a lot more comfortable offensively in that position. He's great rolling to the rim, either to get the pocket pass or the lob.
"His activity of rolling to the basket, they have to honor that," coach Hornacek said. "We will get to the point where we can make some good lob passes to him too and we will have that combination. We don't do a lot of that where we throw him the lob so when we do see one open we seem to be missing it. Again, hopefully that connection will be there."
Wright's lack of girth hold him back, but he's definitely more comfortable in a center role rather than power forward. He agrees that he's played mostly backup center when he's been the most effective in his career, but he's not conceding being a good back four man either.
"I mean, I just fit on the court," he answered. "Whatever I can do to help this team. Usually, I have a big advantage at center, with quickness, athletic ability."
Wright came through, with 18 points and 11 rebounds. His quickness, agility and jumping ability are great with open spaces in which to work. He looks best on a spread out floor in the halfcourt, and on the fast break.
While the Suns are scuffling in terms of cohesive offensive flow, they are getting a new reputation around the league that they might just want to hang on to.
"They are still a talented team (after the trade deadline)," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said before the game. "And they play a tougher, grittier than you would think of a Phoenix team. They have a lot of guys who like to mix it up and are physical and can really put good games together."
Then after the game, Fisher thought Tucker's hustle made the difference in the fourth.
"I think the Suns continued to make plays," he said. "That a team, like theirs, in a position to make the playoffs in the west or at least still competing for it; P.J. Tucker diving on the floor for loose balls, those are the things that make difference in games."
Several coaches over the last few months have commented on the Suns physical nature, including Steve Kerr just last week, saying that playing the Suns is like playing a football game.
If your team can combine fast pace (#2 in the league) and toughness, that's a good combination.