Last night, the Phoenix Suns had arguably their most impressive game of the preseason.
This is due to a number of reasons, but paramount in my opinion, was that for the first time, they seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
They finally looked like the Suns.
This seems weird to say, given the fact that they were missing one of their biggest stars in Devin Booker, while also being without either of their centers, as Tyson Chandler and Alex Len both missed the game as well.
However, even without two starters and a major rotation player, the Suns played extremely well.
Credit the rookies...Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Tyler Ulis.
Marquese Chriss was most impressive of all. Not only did he lead the rookies in scoring, he played the most minutes and did so mostly at the center position. Chriss filled up the stat sheet, scoring 17 points on 7/14 shooting, including 3/5 from three, grabbing 6 rebounds, erasing 4 blocked shots, and even getting his hands on 2 steals in his 33 minutes of play.
Dragan Bender easily had his best game of the preseason, scoring 11 points on 4/9 shooting, and 2/5 from three, as well as grabbing 7 rebounds. He still looked a bit raw at times, but you could definitely see the talent on both ends of the floor. I mean, he's still just 18 years old and put up 11/7 against the Mavericks...preseason or not, that's impressive. He's looking more and more comfortable out there, and it's paying dividends.
Last but not least, Tyler Ulis finally got it going tonight, and looked like the back-up point guard that many of us (me) expect to see playing a major role this season. Ulis scored 14 points, 10 of which came in the 4th quarter, also contributing with 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
Aside from the rookies, Eric Bledsoe also had his first big overall game of the preseason, scoring 17 points and dishing out 9 assists along with 3 steals and 2 rebounds. Jared Dudley also found his stroke, chipping in with 15 points on 5/9 shooting, including 3/7 from three.
Even Brandon Knight, who found himself in foul trouble most of the game, found a way to contribute big time in the fourth quarter, ending up with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in 25 minutes.
The team as a whole showed tremendous fight, and they have done so throughout the preseason, even when they didn't play well. They continuously play with intensity and hustle, and they just don't quit.
Tonight, the Suns played like a team, and overcame injuries, with multiple players stepping up to finish the final preseason home game with a win.
Here's what the team had to say afterwards:
Post Game Interviews
Suns Coach Earl Watson
Coach Watson talked about the expectation for the Suns to shoot 30 three-point shots per game, which they exceeded tonight with 33. He also specifically mentioned how the Suns team is a blank canvas, full of young players who are still being molded into who, and what they will become as players. More terrific insight from the impressive young coach.
Rookie Superstar Big Man, Marquese Chriss
Chriss spoke about his game and them emphasis by Watson to shoot more threes as a team, and with his range and ability, why wouldn't he join in? One thing that continues to impress me about Chriss is his overall intelligence, and his unique understanding of the game for a player his age. I watched him closely tonight, and he never seemed overwhelmed or nervous.
I watched him initiate communication with teammates and even direct them at times. He flowed with the offense and took what the defense gave him. If he was open from three...he let it rain. The results speak for themselves. Not to seem too hyperbolic over a preseason game, but it would have been difficult for me to come away any more impressed than I already was.
I was busy with Chriss so I got to the Dudley interview late...but here he is giving his unique take of the Chriss-Bogut standoff...JMZ represent!
Bledsoe continues to be the driving force of the team both on the court and in the locker room. By now, we know what to expect from Eric, night in and night out, as long as he stays healthy. However, with such a young and exciting supporting cast added to the already talented group, we will have to see how much of a difference it can make this season.
One More Game to Go!
The Suns will have a week off before their next and last preseason game, next Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers on the road.
The Suns are now 3-2 in the preseason, so no matter what happens next, they've avoided a losing preseason record, even though it doesn't really matter. If nothing else, this team has shown what it's capable of, and given the fans reason to be hopeful, and excited, to watch this team play.
Hopefully, coach Watson has also learned a lot about his young players, along with his team as a whole...I certainly have.