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Phoenix Suns give fans, themselves a treat in season finale

Stellar performances from Peters, Harrison, and House contribute to the season’s most entertaining game

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it was that the Phoenix Suns were playing their final game of a grueling season. Maybe it was because there were zero expectations or considerations — good or bad — going into the contest. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the joy of watching a bunch of guys from the end of the bench play their hearts out in their last opportunity before summer break. Whatever the reason, the Suns rewarded their fans with their most entertaining game of the season yesterday, and it couldn’t have been more welcome.

Now, as is customary, let’s take a moment to nitpick before exalting this performance. Yes, the Suns were playing against what was essentially the Dallas Mavericks’ G League team. Yes, the Mavericks’ defense was cabana-worthy. And yes, it was only one game.

But what a game!

It wasn’t a nip-and-tuck affair with each team making big shots or coming up with critical stops down the stretch; the Suns led by as many as 30 points in the 4th quarter of their eventual 124-97 victory. However, for Phoenix fans thirsting for quality basketball, this game was an oasis in the desert of the 2017-18 season.

They had their highest assist total as a team since the Steve Nash era, dropping 35 dimes (on 48 made field goals) on a night where they passed and passed and passed some more. Shaquille Harrison had a career-high 10 assists, Tyler Ulis chipped in another eight off the bench, and even center Alex Len got in on the party, his six assists coming one shy of tying his career high.

The ball movement was crisp and orchestrated beautifully. The ball didn’t stick, swung from strong side to weak, and found the open man. Players passed up good shots for great ones. No one forced anything (except for Alec Peters, more on him later). The result was an 80-point 2nd half and a field goal percentage of 63.2 percent, which was the team’s highest not just of this season but since Nov. 4, 2008.

Outside of Davon Reed, who played just 11 minutes, it would be difficult to say any of Phoenix’s eight available players didn’t make the most of the opportunity provided. Len had a solid performance in what was likely his last game as a Sun, Dragan Bender posted his second consecutive double-double and third in five games, and the backcourt duo of Harrison (18 points, 10 assists) and Danuel House (16 points, eight rebounds) took turns wowing the Dallas fans in attendance with jaw-dropping slams.

But no one took advantage of his opportunity more so than Alec Peters. The seldom-used 2nd round pick, playing on a two-way deal, spent every moment of his 28 minutes and 23 seconds on the court auditioning for the 2018-19 season to the point where he now needs to splice together a new mixtape.

Peters scored a career-high 36 points (his previous career high was eight points) on 12-of-20 shooting, including 8-of-13 shooting from behind the arc. It was like watching the Tony Delk 53-point game, where you don’t really understand how it’s happening, but you love that it is.

Peters smashed the Phoenix rookie record for most 3-pointers made in a single game (six) set by Devin Booker and came within a single make of tying the overall franchise record of nine set by Quentin Richardson and Channing Frye. His 36 points also tied him with Josh Jackson for highest scoring output by a Suns rookie this season and for the fifth-highest total by a Suns rookie ever, only bettered by Walter Davis (40, 39, 38), Amar’e Stoudemire (38), and Mo Layton (37).

Seriously. Alec Peters.

By the end of the game, Peters was plumb tuckered out, even missing layups as his teammates endeavored to get him to 40 points. Interim head coach Jay Triano and the Suns’ bench were reveling in every minute of it, though, and were not about to sub him out of the game late. Not after a game that had Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle saying, “We had trouble stopping Larry Bird dressed up as Alec Peters.”

The bench, comprised almost entirely of Phoenix’s regulars over the course of this season, loved it, just as they loved it when House started providing poster material late or when Harrison hustled up behind Kyle Collinsworth and turned a simple Dallas backcourt violation into a breakaway windmill throwdown.

There was a joy among the players that had been absent virtually all of the season. Sure, earning their first 20-point victory probably helped, but teams can win big and still look miserable. But instead of a group getting through Game 82 of a miserable 61-loss season before they all go their separate ways, they looked like a bunch of kids out at the playground, just playing for the love of the game.

Basketball is a beautiful sport, but when played poorly and without passion, it is like watching nameless workers toil away in their cubicles for eight hours a day. However, when players execute, make the extra pass, hit their shots, hustle, play for their teammates, and generally remember why they fell in love with the game in the first place, it’s a sight to behold.

The best teams over the years have all played like this, and for one shining moment, so did the 2017-18 Suns. Who cares that it was a meaningless game in a lost season? It was fun — just like basketball is supposed to be.

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