The Suns were up against on it — playing with heavy hearts on the second night of a back-to-back, Coach Earl Watson made it clear that his team was going to (and needed to) come out with more spunk early on. Though that did not necessarily happen, a back and forth first half saw the Suns enter the locker room with a 54-51 lead.
The biggest reason for the modest lead was a scoring surge from a flame-throwing Jared Dudley, who in all of his dad-like glory, poured in an inspired 16 points on six shots. There was a point in the second quarter where Devin Booker set one of those drop off screens for a trailing Dudley -- a heat check in every regard — and Dudley casually tickled the twine. Talk about a role reversal.
Other assorted thoughts:
- P.J. Tucker got some extended run as the nominal five when Alex Len had to catch his breath. Tucker fared well, even when he was asked to man up on Andre Drummond, and this will be an interesting development to take notice of going forward. Without the proper size, it will be difficult for Tucker to play center exclusively, but his floor spacing would be a coup on the offensive end.
- When Brandon Knight is decisive with his wiggle, he is a more than capable creator for himself and his teammates. There were plenty of instances where Knight was clearly on the attack, creating space off the dribble and igniting a Suns run. (Small caveat: he only played 17 minutes tonight, and has the look of disdain when the team comes out of huddles. Any body language doctor would be a little concerned.)
- Although Devin Booker struggled with his shot early on, it was impressive to watch him work through the struggles and stay engaged. Even when his shot wasn’t falling, he was still leveraging the attention he gets from a defense into easy looks for Len and others. This is where having a star player -- not just an elite scorer — can mean everything for an offense.
- Andre Drummond swatted away a Marquese Chriss dunk attempt in the third quarter and I thought the Earth shook.
- Speaking of Chriss, it was a rough night for the rookie. He brought his usual energy to the party, but that energy rarely translated into anything positive. With that said, his ineffectiveness lead to a renaissance from Dudley, so maybe there was method to his madness.
- Alex Len played a really nice game tonight on both ends. He served as a defensive anchor and was frisky on the glass against Drummond. On offense, he rarely forced the issue, taking the easy baskets when they presented themselves.
- P.J. Tucker is in prime barking form this season.
- Eric Bledsoe posted one of the more quiet near triple-doubles I have ever seen. He spent much of the first half picking his spots and seeking out opportunities for his teammates. Once crunch time approached, Bledsoe asserted himself on the smaller Ish Smith, igniting the crowd and carrying the Suns to a victory. The emergence of Booker and T.J. Warren has allowed Bledsoe to bear less of an offensive burden, but he is still the engine that makes the Suns go in my opinion.
Here is a link to the box score for those that want to let their nerd out.