Well, this certainly was an interesting game to follow along with. Before we even get into the recap, 13 players combined from both the Suns and Pelicans sat out tonight. Truly, it was their B teams going up against one another for 48 minutes.
In the end, it led to a matchup truly meant for April basketball. And we even got overtime out of this, so, yes, a fun game to close out the season at home for Phoenix.
Without further ado, let’s dive into my main ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Thumbs Down’ from the Suns’ home finale.
Thumbs Up: Ray Spalding
In this one, Spalding looked like an actual rotation big man. The way he was able to run the floor and operate out of the pick-and-roll — albeit against two subpar defenders in Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor — was impressive.
At halftime alone, Spalding already had reached a new career-high of 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting before finishing with a line of 21 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.
Easily, the game of Spalding’s life just occurred.
Before tonight’s outing, Spalding had only appeared in 11 career NBA games, so kudos to him for putting together his best night thus far.
Thumbs Down: Defense
This was a rough one in this category. At halftime, Phoenix was allowing New Orleans to shoot 67.4 percent. When your team is a turnstile, it won’t matter how many points you score unless you stop someone on the other end.
Overall, New Orleans ended up shooting just below 50 percent.
Mikal Bridges has been the only consistent plus defender for the Suns, and he unfortunately can’t cover all areas of the floor with his wingspan. On almost every possession, the Pelicans were getting open opportunities from any level of the floor.
When you’re playing this many players with lack of experience, breakdowns will happen at a higher rate. That’s exactly what happened in this one down six of their best players. Running low on bodies, the Pelicans took advantage of Phoenix.
This could become a theme the last few games, especially with James Harden on tap next in Houston.
Thumbs Down: Sloppiness
I feel like I’ve used this category multiple times already this season, but this one deserved it with the lineups on display. When the Suns have no regular starters, while the Pelicans only have two, it leads to some ugly moments.
Far too often was there contested mid-range jumpers and driving to the rim with no plan of attack.
One way to encapsulate this game from the sloppiness point of view is just tallying up the turnovers and fouls from both sides. The end result? 22 turnovers and 39 fouls.
Thumbs Up: Dragan Bender Triple-Double Alert
Yes, you read that right. Bender was flirting with a triple-double in this one, which I never expected to type in 2019. But, hey, it’s April basketball after all.
Bender had his moments where the size of Randle and Okafor bothered him on either end, but he held his own while also contributing in an area he’s best at: operating as a facilitator in the high post.
More often the last few weeks of the season, as Bender’s minutes have continued to rise due to the injuries all across the roster, Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov has allowed shooters to operate around screens set up by the 7-foot Croatian.
Bender finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 blocks. In possibly his last home game, Bender filled that stat sheet up.
As I mentioned in the game preview, Bender has developed more under Kokoskov in a short amount of time. All signs are pointing to Bender not being in Phoenix next season, but he’s made himself maybe more marketable as a cheap big over the last week or so.
Thumbs Down: Containing Ian Clark
Similar to the overall defense, nobody on the Suns was able to keep up with Clark when he was snaking around screens with wide-open shot attempts.
Clark, the former reserve on the Golden State Warriors, torched Phoenix to the tune of 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting in 34 minutes.
The Suns’ lack of defense tonight helped lead to an explosive scoring binge from Clark, who had yet to score at least 20 points in a game this season.
Thumbs Up: Jamal Crawford
Running low on scorers, the veteran stepped up. J-Crossover provided a vintage performance, pouring in a season-high 28 points along with 7 assists and 3 steals. Josh Jackson also provided some scoring punch. (Both had very strong outings, but only one can advance so recaps don’t turn into novels for our loyal readers. Jackson had 35 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals on 29 shot attempts.)
Crawford was hot from behind the arc (4-of-9), which has been missing on most nights this season. So, this outing from Crawford was nice to see for sure.
By the way, according to Basketball-Reference, this was the first time Crawford has had this high of point total since late in the 2016-17 season.
Especially growing up watching Crawford rain in jumpers for teams like the Hawks and Clippers, it was nice to see watch him heat up in-person for the first time in the 2018-19 campaign at Talking Stick Resort Arena.