By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— The Phoenix Suns 2015-2016 NBA season opener at Talking Stick Resort Arena in front of a sellout crowd of 18,055 people fell short of anticipation – with a 111-95 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The evening started off with a great intro video produced by the Suns staff, which was followed by an energetic on-court introduction for all coaches and players.
With the jitters of the first game for both old and new Suns players, the action on the court was back and forth. The Suns did find themselves in foul trouble early on which ignited head coach Jeff Hornacek to use his bench with a variety of combinations. By the end of the first quarter, the Suns had committed 12 personal fouls to the Mavericks five, and despite only shooting 33 percent from the floor, were only trailing by two points.
Despite the struggles from the floor offensively, the Suns had scrapped and clawed their way to a tie game at 41 a piece with 4:04 to play in the second quarter. From that four minute mark to midway through the third quarter, the Mavericks went on a 42 to 15 run. Hornacek tried to explain the lack of ball movement, foul trouble and the shots not falling.
“That first half, we had a lot of opportunities,” Hornacek said after the game. “Part of our aggressiveness was probably taken away by all of those fouls they called in the first quarter. We had guys in foul trouble. Even with all of that, we were still up by three at one point and we had one stretch where we had wide open shots and didn’t make them. We could have probably blown the game open and we try to tell the guys, ‘hey just keep hanging in there. The shots will go down.’ Our first group has to get going. It was kind of that way in the preseason and it was kind of like that tonight.”
The Suns starting five on the night was Eric Bledsoe (13 points), Brandon Knight (team-high 15 points), Markieff Morris (4 points), PJ Tucker (2 points) and Tyson Chandler (3 points). Together, they combined for 37 points, 18 fouls, 8 assists and 18 rebounds.
“Some night’s your not going to make shots, but you know when we’re not making shots, we just got to make the effort to have to concentrate on defense,” Chandler said.
As a team, the Mavericks were able to capitalize on 18 Suns turnovers by shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent from behind the arc. Raymond Felton scored a game-high 18 points while the Mavericks had eight players in double-digit scoring.
“Tremendous team effort,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlise said. “We’ve got to have great balance. The big key to the game was keeping turnovers down and we only had eight against this team that turned us over 20 times in exhibition. That was a great adjustment for our guys. We stayed in attacking mode all night and never let up and that’s how we’re going to have to play.”
Conversely,Dallas only turned the ball over eight times and held the Suns to 39.1 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent from three point land.
Two bright-spots shined in the 16-point loss for the Suns off the bench- Jon Leuer and rookie Devin Booker. Booker became the second-youngest Suns player to take the floor in a regular season NBA game at the age of 18 years, 363 days (Maciej Lampe the youngest at 18 years, 352 days). Booker contributed 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting that included one three pointer and a dunk.
The head coach was impressed with Booker’s performance, but again knows he is a rookie and has a learning curve.
“He attacked the basket, he got looks,” Hornacek said. “It’s going to be every young guy, the scoring is good but he’s also got to learn to guard some guys and they’re going to take advantage of him. I think he got backdoored on one and that’s when veteran guys say, ‘I got a rookie and I’m going to pick on him.’ That’s how you learn. Overall, for the first game, I thought he did pretty well.”
Booker echoed his head coach in knowing he has a huge learning curve ahead of him, but that is not going to stop him from making the most of his opportunities.
“First time I went in, Coach [Hornacek] said I was getting my feet wet,” Booker said after the game. “I knew my second opportunity in there I was going to go as hard as possible. Whatever I have to do to help the team win is what I’m trying to do. It’s all new to me. It’s the NBA, people say it’s a different league and it really is. I’m just here trying to adjust.”
Leuer also contributed 14 points on the night on 5-of-9 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds in the game where he saw a lot of action at center as the Suns went to a small lineup to desperately try to trim a 28 point Mavericks lead.
At the end of the night, it is just one game out of an 82-game schedule. The Suns have not lost sight of the big picture.
“We just have to stay positive,” Bledsoe said. “We got great looks all night, they just didn’t fall. And we can’t let that carry over to the next game, they’re going to fall next game, we just have to stay positive.”
Certainly, coach Hornacek knows it is a long season as well and will keep things in perspective for his team.
“You got to flush it down the toilet,” Hornacek said. “So you chalk it up as a bad game by everybody and you bounce back two days later and play again.”
The Suns will play again on Friday night as they play host to the Portland Trailblazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The game will have a buzz around it as Steve Nash gets inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.