The Phoenix Suns were 5-1 against the Eastern Conference as they brought their high-tempo three-point firing offense to Toronto on Monday night to face the best the East has to offer this season. The Raptors were 11-2, especially tough at home and hadn’t lost to a Western Conference team in this young season, but they were about to be severely tested.
The Suns are one the NBA’s top three-point shooting teams, but they are middle-of-pack when it comes to getting to the free throw line. The Raptors are top three in free throw attempts, but middle-of-pack when shooting from deep. The Suns are a top 4 team for pace, while the Raptors are 11th and this game was played with both teams trying to go to their strengths.
Toronto turned to center Jonas Valanciunas early and often and the 7-footer proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Suns, drawing fouls, hitting free throws and dominating in the paint. Valanciunas scored a career high 27 points to go with his 11 rebounds.
It was a close game that Toronto seemed to control in the first half as they took a 54-48 lead into the break. In the third quarter, the Raptors took over defensively, holding the Suns to just 18 points and building a 17 point advantage, but no lead is safe versus the Suns.
“We made a comeback,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “The guys just made some bad plays. I thought we gambled a little too much towards the end. When you are making a big comeback from 17 down, you can’t have many errors.”
The Suns went 7-10 from three-point range in the fourth quarter and Valanciunas only played 3.5 minutes as Head Coach Dwane Casey struggled to find a lineup that could get out to the three-point line in time to contest the five shooters Hornacek utilized to stage his team’s attack. Where the Raptors had done a superior job of reining in the Suns three-point threat for the first three-quarters, the Suns were able to score 34 points in the fourth once they got the Raptors back on their heels.
The game was decided in the final couple of minutes as the heart and hustle of Kyle Lowry was on full display. Lowry shot 1-5 in the quarter, but he made the layup that put the Raptors up 98-95 with 2:09 left in the game. Then with 23 seconds left, it was Lowry who tackled Isaiah Thomas, tied up the ball and won the jump-ball that put this game out of reach. The final score was 104-100 Toronto.
Lowry finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and a block. DeRozan scored 23 points and got to the free throw line 13 times. Player-of-the-Week Lou Williams scored 17 points. Valanciunas’ 27 points was the game-high as he shot 10-11 from the field and 7-8 from the charity stripe.
Eric Bledsoe led the Suns with 25 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and Markieff Morris had 17 points and 8 rebounds. However, it was the Suns bench that turned this into a close game. Thomas shot 4-6 from three to score 16 points, hitting all 4 of his three-pointers over the final 12 minutes. Gerald Green had 13 points and P.J. Tucker was 3-4 from deep for 11 points.
The Suns finished with 14-33 from three-point range. The Raptors made up for it going 26-32 from the free throw line. Each team playing to their strengths.
With the win the Raptors remained undefeated against the Western Conference with a record of 4-0 (12-2 overall). They will be tested by the West again when Dallas visits on Friday followed by a three-game Western Conference road trip against the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.
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“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”