'Bench Mob' Helps Suns to Wild Win Over Nuggets

by Ben York

The Suns led by 17 at the half, trailed by 10 in the third and surged ahead to win by 11 by the time the buzzer sounded.

“I think those are the type of games where I don’t know how [Gregg Popovich] and Jerry Sloan and these guys that coach forever and ever do it,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek.

Forgive Hornacek’s fatigued-yet-funny response. He and the Suns earned it after withstanding and eventually overcoming a 33-5 third-quarter run by the Nuggets. Ty Lawson won the battle that quarter by pouring in 21 of his game-high 29 points.

Phoenix (4-2) won the war behind a reserve unit proud enough to 1) dub itself the “Bench Mob” and 2) not allow an inherited deficit to intimidate them.

Markieff Morris led the self-appointed mob by setting his second consecutive career-high in points (28) to go along with 10 rebounds, three steals and two assists. Marcus Morris added 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals and Ish Smith (eight points, four assists) once again steadied the ship at backup point guard.

“They’ve been playing good since day one,” Bledsoe said of the Suns bench. “I think ‘Keef, he’s really been playing good. Dionte Christmas, he came in and gave great minutes. Ish, [too]. Everybody came in and did their job and kept us in it.”

After the Phoenix reserves wiped away a 10-point deficit, most of the starters joined forces with Markieff Morris to finish the job.

Eric Bledsoe was Mr. Fourth Quarter again, scoring nine of his 17 points in the final period. His driving layup and straightaway three-pointer (now a near-guarantee at least once per game) pushed a four-point lead to nine with one minute remaining.

“I’m real confident, my team’s confident in me, my coaching staff, everybody’s confident in me having the ball throughout the game,” Bledsoe said. “I just happened to make good decisions in the fourth.”

Those decisions were more needed than Phoenix would have preferred after opening up a double-digit lead in the first half. Miles Plumlee scored nine of the team’s first 21 points, finishing with his third double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) of the season.

Gerald Green (12 points) and Markieff Morris accounted for 14 points in a row as Phoenix pulled ahead 51-41 in the second. Morris finished the Suns’ second-quarter scoring with a vicious one-handed putback slam off a missed Plumlee free throw, leaving Phoenix with a 64-47 lead at the break.

“Typically the young guys get panicked. Our guys aren’t doing that. It’s a great sign. They stay with it. They stay composed even though we’re a young team. That’s a great sign for the future.”

— Jeff Hornacek

When the teams retook the floor to start the third quarter, it seemed they’d swapped identities and momentum.

“You’ve got a big lead, and then we couldn’t do anything right,” Hornacek said. “We couldn’t score. We couldn’t play defense. All of the sudden you’re down 10 or 11.”

After Phoenix feel behind by double-digits late in the third, the Suns head coach rolled out a lineup of the Morris twins, Dionte Christmas, Ish Smith and Channing Frye.

It proved to be just what Phoenix needed. Smith assisted on a Markieff Morris and-one, did the same himself and assisted on a Morris breakaway after Marcus broke up a Denver pass.

The resulting 8-0 run, Hornacek said, was key in finally stopping the Nuggets’ third-quarter push.

“Typically the young guys get panicked,” he said. “Our guys aren’t doing that. It’s a great sign. They stay with it. They stay composed even though we’re a young team. That’s a great sign for the future.”