On the second night of a tough back-to-back stretch for Phoenix that had them playing the second best team in each conference, they were able to pull out a win against Toronto Thursday night. The Raptors were also on the second night of back-to-backs and following a loss to the Warriors Wednesday night, they seemed blessed by their schedule to be playing the worst team in the West right after playing the conference’s best team. Things didn’t quite pan out how the Raptors surely expected they would.
While Phoenix didn’t really play great, their usually laughable defense came through big time Thursday. They held the Raptors to around 40% from the field and an abysmal 25.9% on 3’s. Eric Bledsoe was an important factor in their win – scoring 22 points on an efficient 9-14 shooting performance, adding 10 assists, five rebounds, three steals, and two blocks – really filling up the stat sheet.
Devin Booker also went for 19 points, five boards, and five dimes for the Suns. Bledsoe and Booker were able to overshadow T.J. Warren’s 2-11 shooting performance. In 27 minutes he was only able to chip in four points and three rebounds; but he did come up with two steals to help the team’s defensive effort. Warren had been averaging 18 points and five rebounds in the four games prior to Thursday’s win. P.J. Tucker played a solid game for the Suns, going 4-7 from the field for 14 points and pulling down four rebounds in 30 minutes.
In Wednesday’s loss to the Spurs, Warren played 34 minutes, led the team in scoring with 23 (including a perfect 10/10 from the free throw line) and corralled six rebounds to go with a steal and a block while Tucker played just 16 minutes. The position of starting small forward was initially up for grabs at the start of the season, which Warren claimed with ease until a head injury sidelined him for over a dozen games. Since his return he’s been coming off the bench with Tucker starting games for Phoenix. Earl Watson has been experimenting with lineup changes, desperate to find the right groups of guys to be on the floor together to help the team win, and so he may continue bringing Warren off the bench for an extra spark when Bledsoe and Booker are resting. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if we see Warren rejoin the starting lineup if his averages remain the same or improve.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 24 points each, but their offense was stagnant otherwise. Toronto only ended the game with 10 assists, half as many as Phoenix tallied.
While there were many things to celebrate in this victory for Suns fans – like the Suns out-rebounding the Raptors 56 to 47 – had the Raptors played even remotely close to the way they’re capable of, this could’ve just as easily been another loss for the Suns.
They still turned the ball over 20 times (allowing 23 points off of turnovers) and sent Toronto to the charity stripe 29 times. A win is still a win, though, and this year Phoenix will take them however they can get them.
The Suns return to action New Year’s Eve at home against the 20-13 Utah Jazz. If they can shoot as well from beyond the arc and pass the ball as well as they did against the Raptors, they could head into the New Year on a two-game winning streak.