Tempo takes over as Suns stay undefeated in Las Vegas Summer League

Forward P.J. Tucker elevates for the dunk after a steal.

While the Suns make strides in how they start games, their mid-game form keeps getting better and better.

Phoenix used a 26-0 second-quarter run, spurred by the reserves, to pull away in a 92-84 win over Portland in the first round of the Las Vegas NBA Summer League winner’s bracket. Six players scored in double figures for the Suns, who shot 42 percent from distance while employing the uptempo style Jeff Hornacek said would be a staple of his offense.

Hornacek, however, credited the team’s work at the other end of the floor for their offensive explosion.

“A lot of it is the defense,” Hornacek said. “The defense in the second quarter was very good. They had active hands and then we were able to get out and run. When we don’t play good defense and take it out of bounds, that running game isn’t as effective.

Marcus Morris and Dionte Christmas scored 15 points apiece for team-high honors, with Diante Garrett (14), Chris Babb (11), Archie Goodwin (10) and PJ Tucker (10) rounding out the team-wide effort on offense.

Tucker was instrumental in getting the Suns rolling after slow starts to both halves. The veteran forward came up with steals and breakaway dunks both times, providing a needed jolt of energy the rest of the team carried forward.

The win gives Phoenix a day off between games before playing their next game on Saturday, at which point it’s “win or go home” all the way through Monday’s summer league title game.

Backup backcourt turns tempo in Suns’ favor

The Diante-Dionte tandem continued to flourish off the bench, combining for 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting. Garrett added three assists and two steals while Christmas threw in four rebounds in addition to his scoring.

“Diante Garrett’s doing a nice job of penetrating and creating things for guys,” Hornacek said. “He’s getting us in situations where we can swing the ball to somebody that’s open. Dionte Christmas is knocking down shots for us. They’re doing a good job. The floor’s staying spread. Tonight it got us back in the game and in the lead.”

The backcourt duo thrived while helping push the tempo in the second quarter. Garrett picked the Blazers’ defense apart, finding seams in the defense and creating shots for others in the process.

Meanwhile Christmas continued to be a solid source of offense in Las Vegas, hitting two more 3-pointers while looking for more opportunities via penetration. His hanging and-1 layup in the third quarter pushed the Suns’ lead back up to 17 when Portland appeared poised for a run.

Hornacek lets bench unit get over the hump

A rash of fourth-quarter turnovers saw Phoenix’s lead dip to just six points with just under a minute left. Hornacek could have turned to the Suns regulars to close the game out, Instead he opted to leave in a mostly reserve unit of Goodwin, Babb, Garrett, Arinze Onuaku (six points, eight rebounds) and Alex Oriakhi to finish the job.

A few turnover-free possessions and free throws later, the Suns had the win well in hand.

“You want to see how they finish games, if they get panicked or how they handle it,” Hornacek said of the younger players and reserves. “I thought they did a good job.”

“You just want to put them in those situations, some of those guys who normally won’t be in there at the end of the game, so they see what it’s like and kind of see what they’re thinking when the last couple of minutes come together in a close game,” he added.