Successful Debuts, Returns Highlight Suns Opener
Don’t feel bad if you were caught off guard by Miles Plumlee’s regular season debut. His teammates and players have been — and still are — constantly reminded of just how good he is.
The fans’ collective surprise over Phoenix’s new starting center was audible throughout Wednesday’s win over Portland. He had a double-double by halftime, and finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.
The first quarter was his coming-out party, especially on one play. When Eric Bledsoe lofted the ball high toward Plumlee following a pick-and-roll, there was little-to-no idea from the fans of what would happen next.
When the former Duke Blue Devil skied higher and slammed harder than anyone expected, the reaction reflected the play itself: shock and awe.
It was also the same reaction his teammates had a couple days earlier, even after seeing similar plays during practices, scrimmages and training camp.
“We had one the other day,” Plumlee laughed. “Definitely like that.”
“It started when we got here playing pickup,” he continued. “Guys start seeing what you can do. [After] plays like that, they get a little more trust in you and they start throwing them even more.”
Plumlee’s success came on more than just dunks. He made hook shots with either hand in the first quarter, using a soft touch and tall arc to bank the ball high off the glass. His long baseline jumper in the third quarter, part of a 10-0 Suns run, hit nothing but net.
His unexpected offensive development has added to Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek’s playbook, a scenario he laughed about even as he disclosed it.
“We’ve seen it all preseason,” Hornacek said. “We’ve seen it in practices. We’re calling post-up plays for him. I probably wouldn’t have imagined we’d be calling post-up plays for him this early in the season, but he’s doing a great job. He really works on his game and that’s why he’s improving.”
Frye Gets Warm Welcome Back
Normally, the last player for the home team gets the biggest cheer. Wednesday night, it was the first.
That’s because that player was Channing Frye, who played in his first regular season game in over a year and a half after recovering from heart complications. When his name was announced, the roar from the crowd was immediate, an outpouring of appreciation that was, in turn, appreciated.
“You know what, it meant a lot, man,” Frye said. “It really was absolutely amazing. I just can’t thank everyone enough for their support. Even on Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, whatever it is. Just seeing them around the community, it’s been absolutely awesome. Going through this, coming back and still having the support from the community that I have, I just want everybody to know I’m giving it the best I can.”
Frye’s start came with limited minutes attached as he continues to regain his NBA conditioning. The former Arizona Wildcat finished with seven points, three rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes. Five of his points came in the opening quarter, when the Suns raced out to a double-digit lead.
The enforced sabbatical away from the game gave Frye plenty of time to think about himself and watch his teammates, with both activities coming with little to no active outlet. The sharp-shooting big man admitted it was hard to see the team run its course without him, but faced the adjustment with a reflective attitude.
“At times I had to be okay with me not being in the limelight all the time,” Frye said. “I had to be me, just regular Channing. At some point, I was thinking, ‘this might be my reality.’ I was okay with that.”
Backcourt Combo Shows Up Big
Much of the offseason scrutiny focused on the Suns’ decision to pair point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe together as the starting backcourt.
It seems like a smart call after the season opener.
The two playmakers’ stat lines nearly mirrored each other. Bledsoe finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and a steal. Dragic added 26 points, nine assists, six rebounds and a steal.
Perhaps most impressive was the duo’s efficiency on offense. They combined to shoot 19-of-33 from the field (57.8 percent). Dragic took eight (and hit five) more shot attempts, but Bledsoe made up the difference at the free throw line, where he hit 8-of-11 tries.
“We always thought that was an advantage, having those two guys,” Hornack said. “If one guy’s not going, we put the other guy in the pick-and-roll if they have the advantage. Obviously tonight, they both play great.”