Another competitive game this time around for the Phoenix Suns, it at least surprised me after the recent trend of disturbing play. Following getting their doors blown off by San Antonio the last time they visited Talking Stick Resort Arena, the Suns kept it close even with quiet nights from Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
Much like the Grizzlies game when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley struggled shooting, deja vu for DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. In the first half alone, DeRozan and Aldridge combined to hit 4/16 of their shot attempts before the former Toronto Raptor heated up in the final two quarters.
You know the drill, Bright Side readers. Below, I will go through my ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Thumbs Down’ from tonight’s matchup versus San Antonio.
Thumbs Up: T.J. Warren
If the Suns were any better in the win-loss column, I’m not kidding when I say T.J. Warren would be getting some sleeper consideration for Most Improved Player of the Year, especially now after Caris LeVert’s unfortunate ankle injury that will sideline him until the All-Star break. Warren maintained his efficient scoring, continuing to hit tough midrange shots alongside his ever-improving three-point stroke on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Warren finished with 27 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals on 10-17 FGA (3-8 on 3s).
Not only does Warren continue to improve adding another level of scoring capabilities, but his defensive instincts are improving as well. His quick twitch hands to pick off passing lanes is an area that the fifth-year wing is excelling at early this season.
Thumbs Up: Josh Jackson’s progression
The progression seen out of Josh Jackson on Wednesday night was a pleasant sight to see. Phoenix’s No. 4 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has arguably been one of the worst players through 13 games, but his boundless energy provided a spark.
Jackson still shoots far too often for somebody who should focus plenty on providing tough on-ball defense, but he kept his turnovers and boneheaded fouls to a minimum. He even reestablished his connection with Ayton on an alley-oop leading him in semi-transition.
The former Kansas Jayhawk tallied 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block on 6-13 FGA. If Jackson can cut down the shot attempts while increasing his cuts to the rim, he could slow his game back down to a manageable level.
Thumbs Down: Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson is simply unplayable at this stage, especially when he’s not hitting wide-open three-pointers at even an average clip. Anderson logged 7 minutes in the first half, but didn’t see the court again afterwards.
Don’t be surprised if this is the beginning of the end for Anderson seeing anymore minutes in Phoenix, at least on a consistent basis. When he can’t contribute even shooting to the table, Anderson is a major net-negative whenever he’s on the floor.
Thumbs Up: Jamal Crawford’s spark
If it wasn’t for Crawford, San Antonio would’ve grabbed the lead and never looked back. That was until Crawford lit it up in the third quarter on his way to 10 points on 4-4 FGA.
Crawford had yet to provide that scoring punch off the Suns’ bench, but his performance on Wednesday was needed for them to win this one, even if the score says otherwise.
Everything was clicking for Phoenix, but the wave of momentum they carried was courtesy of the man nicknamed J-Crossover.
Thumbs Up: Improved defense
Far and away, this game featured the best effort out of the Suns defensively through 14 games. Aggressive, attacking man-to-man defense with switching when needed alongside improved communication.
Ayton was holding his own with no egregious look-ons as players drove past him for easy buckets. Jackson was playing smart and within himself, while Bridges kept his consistent motor revving on that end as well.
Kokoskov’s young group held their own with the Spurs, holding them to near-season lows in overall field goal percentage and three-pointers.
Trust me, there were plenty of other standouts, including Bridges continuing to pass both the eye and advanced stats tests. Also, playmaker Booker was out in full force tonight with a double-double, with not much scoring needed out of him. Isaiah Canaan also provided a stable hand at point guard with minutes behind him from Crawford and De’Anthony Melton.
Can this be a win this group can build upon? It sure feels that way, but it won’t be easy with the Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town on Saturday in a game with now heightened importance.