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Phoenix Suns knock off the Portland Trail Blazers 86-73

Devin Booker did some stuff.

The Suns relied on their defensive prowess to stifle the Trail Blazers' attack, opening up fastbreak opportunities for the young, athletic bunch to flourish within. Pushing the pace sounds great in theory, but it is more important to supplement it on the defensive end first. Phoenix held no punches against Portland, and the final score justified the tenacity that the Suns played with.

Assorted Observations

  • I was dumbfounded to see Phoenix elect to come out with Tyler Ulis stashed in the corner for the first half of the first quarter, relegating him to a spot-up threat rather than a creator. There was an obvious emphasis on running action that focused on Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, but I didn't like that it came at the expense of Ulis. Once the force-feeding of the top picks was thrown away, Ulis was given reign to run the offense in both transition and as a floor general, routinely setting up teammates where they could be successful. It doesn't take long to fall in love with Ulis' feel for the game. Size doesn't matter if you are always two steps ahead of your opponent.

  • Halfway through the first, Chriss received the ball at the top of the key as the initial play action rans its course. A series of behind the back dribbles preambled a fumbled streak into the paint. Just as it looked like the possession had gotten away from him, Chriss planted his right foot stiff, padded a hard dribble into the floor, and spun to a graceful finish.
  • Sequences like this are what makes Chriss, who had 4 points and 6 rebounds on 2-10 shooting, such a mesmerizing prospect. He obviously has the tools to be a bouncy fixture on defense and on the glass, coming within inches of swatting away looks within the paint of plenty of occasions. There is plenty for him to work on at this point, but the talent is there.

  • Devin Booker was extremely vocal on the court (and with poor Luis Montero), facilitating the offense along with Ulis en route to 28 points and 6 assists. He was obviously focused on cooking, but if Booker continues to mature as a person as quickly as his game has, look out.

  • Chriss and Bender gelled better than expected on both ends of the floor. Their defense was especially menacing for the Blazers, as stationing Bender on the wing and Chris inside created a "sea of arms" effect that made it difficult for passes to be made cleanly. Even the slightest hesitation from the offense can lead to good things for defenders. Offensively, both relied on their motor to wreak havoc on the boards, compensating for their lack of girth to still be a nuisance.

  • Bender didn't shoot it entirely well (4-13 including 1-7 from three), but he looked comfortable, and his release looks solid. I would attribute the in efficiency to nerves more than a lack of skill. There were little cadences here and there -- such as grabbing a rebound and leading the break whenever he could -- that are encouraging.

  • Troy Williams had a thunderous putback dunk that was taken away because of offensive interference. Williams flew around the court during his short tenure in the game, always looking for a sliver of space to utilize his bouncy attributes.

  • Ulis picked up the lead ball-handler full court for long stretches of the game, creating little hiccups that throw off the flow of an offense. If Ulis can translate that skill against NBA-level guards, that could be a unique asset for the Suns to take advantage of.

  • Noah Vonleh is a house. As is Alan Williams. Not surprising that they both exchanged words midway through the third quarter and nearly served as an opening act for UFC 200.

  • The feel good story of the summer, Kyle Kuric, buttered home three 3-pointers. It is hard not to root hard for a guy who is returning from brain tumor surgery; I can't even wrapping my head around that reality.

  • One more thing: Devin Booker is really good at basketball.
Today was a gigantic leap towards establishing a feel-good culture for the Suns' young guns. Yes the on-court performance will get all of shine, but the more important narrative is the camaraderie that the core showed throughout. High-fives were aplenty, the bench was animated and engaged, and the defensive communication was furious.

Be sure to check back in with us tomorrow after the Suns take on the Celtics at 7:30 p.m.

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