On the 1993 Phoenix Suns team reunion night, it seemed like the number of 1993 Suns Finals teammates here in street clothes were nearly matched by the 2021 Suns Finals teammates in street clothes. But then I looked it up and it was 12-6 for the 93 team.
This current Suns team “only” had 6 players from their ‘21 Finals team on the sidelines/out (Paul, Booker, Crowder, Ayton, Johnson, Payne).
What’s also crazy is that even with 6 of those Finals guys out/injured, the Suns still played three guys who appeared in the 2021 Finals — Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric, and Torrey Craig. That’s a LOT of continuity, James Jones.
Anyway, oh yeah there was a Suns GAME tonight.
It’s nice to be at home.
Despite missing most of their rotation guys (those aforementioned plus Landry Shamet), the Suns came out with a fighting spirit and managed the game very well against a tired, short-handed Pacers team on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Suns best players were Josh Okogie and Mikal Bridges, with a good sprinkling of center play from Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale. Saben Lee was also once again good off the bench. Ish Wainright has developed himself into a nice two-way role player off the bench. Damion Lee was his usual steady self.
The Suns had an 8-point lead with under three minutes left and looked like a comfortable win, but then Saben Lee committed a flagrant foul fighting off a defender and before we knew it the Pacers had pulled within 4. A minute later Lee made up for it with a tough rebound in the paint against Myles Turner and an end-to-end drive to force free throws. Suns back up 6.
Bennedict Mathurin made a three-point play the next time down to cut the lead to three with 1:56 left, then Ish Wainright made a three to put the Suns back up 6, 107-101 with a minute left. He was 1-6 on threes before that, but did not hesitate with the game on the line. That’s real growth from him.
T.J. McConnell made a three-point play the next time down to pull it back to 107-104, but Jock Landale made a reverse layup with 26 seconds left to put the Suns back up 5. Hield made a three to make it a two point game with 5 seconds left. Saben Lee split a pair of free throws to give Indiana a shot to tie up the game with 4.4 seconds left. But Buddy Hield missed a three and the Suns were able to close out the game.
Finally, Suns win 112-107.
Josh Okogie is the player of the game: 24 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. All that off the bench. With a broken nose. While wearing a face mask.
“He was everywhere tonight,” Monty Williams said afterward.
“It feels good,” Okogie said afterward. “With guys out, we’re lacking in a lot of areas. For me, I try to fill in those voids. Just trying to make plays.”
He’s grateful for every day he’s in the NBA.
“The average player gets 4 to 5 years,” Okogie said. “And I’m right there! I’m grateful for everything I get.”
Mikal Bridges added 22 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Bismack Biyombo had 12 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks. Saben Lee had 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. In total, 6 players scored in double figures for the Suns.
For the Pacers, former U of A Wildcats had good games. T.J. McConnell had a triple double, with 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Bennedict Mathurin had 23 with 5 rebounds off the bench.
This was a really gritty win at home, considering the Suns were missing so many players.
The Suns are now 23-24 and only one win back of 6th place (Clippers are 24-24), despite all this crazy losing.
How it went
The Suns started off strong with a three off a nice offensive set to Damion Lee, but then the big worries began, with the Suns having no point guards in the lineup AND playing a five man group that had hardly every played together. The former negatively impacted the offense while the latter left gaping holes in defensive rotations.
Quickly the Pacers got out to a 10-3 lead as the Suns missed their next 5 shots.
On the defensive end, the Suns were fine as long as the Pacers dumped it in to Myles Turner because Bismack Biyombo was such an active force at the rim. But if the Pacers — who were also without their main ball handler, Tyrese Haliburton — swung the ball around a couple times it often got a guy open. The wrong guy — Buddy Hield made a pair of threes in that 10-0 run.
The Suns settled down though and took a 20-17 lead where the Pacers were really only staying in the game with jump shooting.
Former U of A Wildcat Bennedict Mathurin came into the game as the Pacers began bringing in subs and immediately made an impact with his aggression. Neither team has a guy like Mathurin who’s willing to drive hard every time to the rim.
Former Pacer Duane Washington Jr. came into the game for the Suns with about 2 minutes left in the first quarter. He scored 10 points per game for the Pacers last year as a rookie but was released to make room for the Deandre Ayton offer sheet that the Suns matched.
DWJ made his first three, a good sign for the game, and you can tell he probably wants to have an impact here. He’s playing NEXT to Saben Lee as the shooting guard, a better fit for him.
Suns lead 29-27 after one quarter. Mikal Bridges leads a balanced Suns attack with 7 points and 2 assists. Josh Okogie, wearing a mask, has 6 points (3-4 shooting), 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. The Suns as a team are shooting 59% from the field. For the Pacers, Mathurin is tied with former U of A Wildcat T.J. McConnell with 6 points each.
The Suns were playing a lot of wonky lineups in this game with so many players out. At one point, the collective lineup made LESS money than Torrey Craig makes this season.
The Suns had a lineup of S.Lee-Washington-Okogie-Wainright-Landale on the floor which makes a combined total of $4.76mil.— David (@theIVpointplay) January 22, 2023
The Suns opened the second quarter with a nice pair of threes. Ish Wainright on a really nice play where he circled the court twice to lose his guy. Ish got a steal on the other end and Duane Washington drained a three in transition. Suns up 35-27. Timeout, Indiana.
The Suns held the lead through the first half of the second quarter before they got really sloppy on both ends, allowing the Pacers to take the lead back on a T.J. McConnell three, at 44-42. The Pacers have made 7-of-15 threes at this point.
Mikal Bridges came back in to settle the troops and put the Suns back up 51-46 on his second three of the game. He now has 14 points on 6-8 shooting and there’s almost 2.5 quarters to go.
Timeout Pacers. And just like last time, the Pacers got better out of timeout and pulled quickly back to 51-50. McConnell drove for a layup when Lee and Biyombo miscommunicated on the defensive assignment, then Aaron Nesmith got a steal on a lazy pass. He missed the layup but more Pacers got back than Suns, and got three clean attempts at the rim.
McConnell is starting to kill the Suns defense on drive and kicks to the open man. There’s just not enough ball pressure on him with these unusual Suns lineups getting assignments messed up.
Suns up 59-57 at halftime.
- Both teams are shooting it well from deep. The Pacers have made 8 of 17 threes, and the Suns have made 6 of 10.
- Suns leaders: Mikal Bridges has 14 points and 3 assists. Bismack Biyombo has 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Josh Okogie has 10 off the bench.
- Pacers leaders: T.J. McConnell has 11 points, 7 assists and 2 steals. Ben Mathurin has 12 points off the bench.
The Suns started the second half with Josh Okogie in place of Dario Saric. The Pacers stayed in the game with their three-point shooting, getting the Suns on bad switches.
Hield just keeps getting lost in the Suns defensive rotations, and made his 4th three to put the Pacers up 73-71 with half the third quarter to go. Timeout Suns. The Pacers are now 11-for-22 on threes. For the whole season, they’re mid-pack on threes with 36% average.
As the Pacers held a 77-76 lead, McConnell is now up to 11 assists, along with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. He’s just breaking down the Suns D, who have to focus on wherever Buddy Hield is floating. Saben Lee, Duane Washington Jr. and Damion Lee have not done well at containment.
Saben Lee, of all players, made a couple of threes to keep the Suns in the game when they were scuffling, and his aggressive paint drive for free throws (on Jalen Smith) put the Suns up 84-83.
Some crazy hustle, and good bounces, helped the Suns take the 87-83 lead into the 4th quarter. Mikal Bridges leads the Suns with 22 points on 9/17 shooting. Four different Suns are in double figures (Mikal, Okogie, Biyombo and Damion Lee) while 2 more have 9 (Washington and Lee).
Josh Okogie is really having himself a game in this one. His activity is everything the Suns need and more, putting the Suns up 98-90 on a putback with 6:45 left. He’s now got 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.
Looks like the junior Suns will be able to put this one away.