There wasn’t much reason for optimism on either side heading into this one. If anything, it was two fanbases so desperate for a win that it was impossible to imagine clean, efficient basketball resulting from this game.
Lisboa summarized these late-season thoughts on late-season basketball as “entertainment”:
Bledsoe-less Booker-less Chandler-less Bender-less Suns vs Millsap-less Bazemore-less Sefolosha-less Hawks— Mike Lisboa (@MikeLisboa) March 29, 2017
As awful to watch as it sounds
But if you’ve embraced the tank and gotten familiar with the young characters on this team, it wasn’t so bad. Viewers got a look at what Marquese Chriss could do with the reigns removed (1-8 shooting in the first half, bah), followed by a fun second quarter for Derrick Jones Jr. Despite all of that, T.J. Warren got his customary 10 first-half points, and looked the veteran he somehow is next to all these guys.
A push to close the half brought the Suns within three.
Luckily, in the second half, the coaching staff realized it was futile to feature any of these guys except Warren, and so they did that, kind of:
Second half update: 4 Alex Len jumpers in the first 3.5 minutes— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 29, 2017
He kept the Suns within reach of a Hawks team that was slow and full of mistakes. Though on a serious note, even as Warren led Phoenix back from that deficit late in the second and into the third quarter, it was Tyler Ulis’ defense that stuck out most.
Especially without Paul Millsap, the Hawks turn to Dennis Schroeder whenever they start to gasp on offense. His pick-and-roll play makes up a large part of the Hawks’ scoring diet, and even at its sloppiest, a quick and smart player like Schroeder will burp up open shots. Tyler Ulis was absolutely no match when Schroeder got going downhill.
Now, we know that the mirage of this February and March are misrepresenting what the Ulis’ true role will be (fourth guard? fifth guard?), but Schroeder is probably not even a top-ten offensive point guard in the league. If Ulis makes him look great, what does that mean for him as a NBA player?
It’s hard to tell, because he’s playing 40-plus minutes per game after not playing much at all for the entire first half of the year. But I think it’s certainly fine to worry and wonder. That’s the situation the management staff has put this team (and judgments of it) into.
Back to “fun”. This was cool:
Derrick Jones Jr. is to dunking, what most people are to walking.#MakingItLookEasy ✈️ pic.twitter.com/XNyY4KKIBd— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 29, 2017
On the other side of the ball, Jared Dudley was in a mood. I think you know the one: Toying with big men not quick enough to evade him, rotating toward the rim a beat early to contest shots, directing teammates around the court. That was the most enjoyable part of this game. The Hawks only shot 40 percent from the field, many of which were very open, but teams don’t shoot that poorly without some solid defense being played against them:
Dudley's defense has been fantastic tonight. Tips a lob away from Dwight, who is approximately two feet taller than him.— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) March 29, 2017
Atlanta also turned the ball over 19 times, and yet they won. The Suns’ eventual downfall was their inability to defend Schroeder— starting with Ulis, but ending with poor rotations along the backline and on switches.
We saw enough from everyone to feel optimistic. This is a “good tanking win”, or whatever your version of that is.