Last night, the Grizzlies played the part of the Phoenix Suns big brother once again. Or playground bully. Or enforcer, if you prefer.
Devin Booker got into yet another scuffle with a Grizzlies player, this time with a guy literally twice his age in Vince Carter.
Early in the first quarter, Carter, 40, took exception to Booker, 20, and threw such an obvious elbow that he got ejected and no one but the Grizzlies fans acted surprised.
Vince Carter received an early exit after mixing it up with Devin Booker pic.twitter.com/2CtHiUNHWg— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) March 1, 2017
After that, Booker momentarily shined (a three-point play and a three pointer) but the Grizzlies clamped down on Booker the rest of the game the way a good basketball team does, and the Suns eventually ran out of answers.
Booker only finished with nine points, zero after intermission as the Suns lost the lead, the game and some of their pride.
Here’s what Suns coach Earl Watson said after the game, clearly still heated over the first quarter fight.
"We have to find someone in free agency or the first chance we get who can protect our top offensive players," Watson said. "That has to happen. If not, Book is going to see a lot of elbows. It's the reason Kobe went out and got Ron Artest and Matt Barnes. It's the reason why Jordan went out and got guys who could protect him."
Uh oh. Not Matt Barnes?
Matt Barnes is currently a free agent, having been let go by the Sacramento Kings last week after the trade deadline. Let’s hope Watson wasn’t serious, and isn’t about to get the Suns to sign the ancient Barnes this season to be the team’s enforcer.
Barnes has been a Phoenix Sun before and that did not go well or end well. He was replaced by one of the team’s all-time favorites in Grant Hill.
Barnes’ most recent memories in Phoenix include him jawing incessantly at managing partner Robert Sarver after making baskets for whatever team Barnes is on.
From a team culture point of view, though, Matt Barnes has always had the support of his locker room and his coaches as a good guy and, as Watson puts it, as an enforcer.
After trading P.J. Tucker, or maybe even including Tucker, the Suns just don’t have anyone who can effectively back up the Suns best scorers. This doesn’t mean that the Suns need a dirty player. Tony Allen and James Ennis, for example, showed that just locking up the guy on both ends, being physical, can be done within the bounds of the game and achieve the ultimate goal of shutting a player down.
"Book was being physical with him – that's how Book's supposed to be with him in the post, Vince Carter's a good scorer down there," Jared Dudley said. "If you ask Vince, he probably would apologize for that. I think he tried to hit him more in the chest. I don't think he tried to hit him in the neck area, but it is what it is. He should've been ejected for that."
Let’s end this on a good note.
Tyler Ulis breakout game
Lost in all the hubbub of a disappointing loss and disappointing response from Booker after being showed up was possibly the best game of rookie point guard Tyler Ulis’ career.
Tyler Ulis will likely always be the smallest player in the NBA, but he showed last night with his 9 points, 7 assists and 0 turnovers in 17 minutes of play that he knows how to create space for his jumper and how to draw the defenders to create passing lanes for scores.
Check out Ulis’ game and you can see exactly what will keep Ulis in the NBA for a decade or more.
He may never be a starter, and most likely won’t get that far. But there are exceptions to every rule. And maybe Ulis will become one of those exceptions.
For now, let’s enjoy Ulis’ opportunity to earn more and more playing time as the primary backup point guard for the last six weeks of the season.