Top 13 Moments of 2013
December 31, 2013
13. Keef’s Week
The Suns’ big man started the 2013-14 season with a bang of efficient dominance that culminated in being named Western Conference Player of the Week for Nov. 4-10. Morris led Phoenix to a 3-1 week that included wins over Denver and New Orleans. In that stretch, Markieff averaged 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while shooting, get this, 69.8 percent from the field.
12. Beat (Down) L.A.
Phoenix gave its fans quite the gift leading up to Christmas: a 27-point beat-down of the division rival Lakers on Dec. 23. There was no shortage of highlights, but among them were these: 17 points and 20 rebounds from Miles Plumlee, 14 made three-pointers, 61 bench points, a 62-39 edge in rebounds and holding the Lakers to just 37 percent from the field.
11. Mile-High Comeback
At one point on Dec. 20, the Suns trailed the Denver Nuggets 60-39. That same night, they won. The game highlighted the never-quit attitude instilled in the team since training camp. It came to life that night through Markieff Morris (25 points, six rebounds, three blocks, three steals) and the rest of the Suns’ bench, which accounted for 64 of the team’s 103 total points.
10. Defense vs. Houston
Dec. 4 offered a measuring stick game against a newly formed contender in Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Rockets. At the time, Houston led the league in points per game. Phoenix went out and held them to 35.2 percent shooting and 88 points – 22 fewer than their average – on their home floor. P.J. Tucker and Goran Dragic each had four of the Suns’ 13 steals of the night, part of forcing 22 Rockets turnovers.
9. Slash Bros. vs. Splash Bros.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson form one of the more heralded backcourts in the league, but Golden State’s duo experienced hefty competition from Suns’ teammates Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Pheonix’s guard duo finished with 45 points to Curry and Thompson’s 48, but needed seven less shots to get there. They also finished with more assists (12-10), rebounds (9-7), steals (7-3) and free throw attempts (20-14) than their Warrior counterparts.
8. Proof vs. Portland
The Blazers had proved themselves an NBA contender by starting the season 13-2 before playing the Suns for the third time on Nov. 27. The teams has split the previous two meetings, though the one loss came by just a single point. The Suns again proved they could more than hang with the league’s best, beating Portland by double-digits in a 120-106 win that again proved Phoenix was no fluke.
7. Bledsoe Buzzer-Beater
Sometimes the new kid at the party hangs back and avoids attention. Not Eric Bledsoe. The fourth-year guard made a resounding announcement of his arrival by hitting a walk-up three-pointer over Utah’s Gordon Hayward to give the Suns an 87-84 lead with just 0.7 seconds left. The margin held for the win on Nov. 1, with the image of Bledsoe and his teammates’ celebration making quite the early impression of the new season.
6. Deal With Indy
When the Suns parted with Luis Scola, many felt the biggest benefit was the lottery-protected first-round draft pick Phoenix got in return. That has turned into an afterthought in light of the emergence of starting center Miles Plumlee (10.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and heat-check man Gerald Green (12.9 ppg, 2.5 three-pointers per game). In hindsight, the deal might be the offseason’s most underrated in terms of impact both short and long-term.
5. Blockbuster for Bledsoe
Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough saw an opportunity when Chris Paul re-signed with the Clippers. He made good on it, spearheading a three-team deal that landed stud-in-waiting Eric Bledsoe to give Head Coach Jeff Hornacek the speed-oriented backcourt he needed for his uptempo offense. Bledsoe hasn’t disappointed, leading the team in points, assists and steals since arriving.
4. Dragic’s 2013
Seriously, try to top this year. Goran got married, had a first-born son, started building his own house, was the face of the European basketball championships (EuroBasket 2013) because his home country was hosting it, got treated like a superstar in the process, returned to Phoenix to find reinforcements waiting in the form of a run-friendly coach (Hornacek) and a partner in crime (Bledsoe), and is now the veteran heart of an up-and-coming team that everyone likes.
3. Frye’s Return
Seventeen months. That’s how long Channing Frye, who grew up training his body and life around basketball, couldn’t play the game. Heart complications restricted him to yoga and golf. When the Suns announced his return on the team’s media day to kick off the season, Frye’s smile was the biggest in the room. It still is. On a team full of people who don’t take anything for granted, Frye might be the best representative of that attitude.
2. Hiring Hornacek
Locals cited Hornacek’s history. Peers cited his friendly/calm attitude. But when McDonough cited his own reasons for hiring Jeff Hornacek as the team’s head coach, he cared about one thing: his ability to coach. He has backed it up since then, guiding the Suns to an 18-11 record and himself to the early discussions for Coach of the Year. The reasons for both: his affinity for player development and confidence while demanding constant effort and energy.
1. McDonough as GM
The Suns needed to turn things around after a letdown 2012-13 season. They pegged Ryan McDonough as the man to do it. Since taking on the job as Suns General Manager, all he’s done is hire a head coach, engineer four trades that yielded three of the team’s top seven scorers (including their best rebounder, scorer, steals and assists man) and two extra first-round draft picks, and basically make Phoenix one of the most positive stories of the year.