10 Things We Learned from #SunsScrimmage at NAU

Barry Gossage
by Tyler Emerick

FLAGSTAFF -- In any intrasquad game, whichever team wins is generally more or less inconsequential. 

Sure, the players want to come out on top, but it's more about finding their rhythms, executing the playbook and getting a feel for their teammates in a competitive atmosphere.

That's why the ending to the Suns' Saturday afternoon scrimmage at Northern Arizona University was so fitting. 

With the scoreboard reading 72-70 and just 2.2 seconds remaining, Eric Bledsoe fielded an inbounds pass near the baseline, took a step and drained a shot while falling down as time expired to even the score at 72 apiece. Head Coach Earl Watson employs a philosophy of always ending practice on a high note, so in this instance, he decided the clutch moment was the ideal way to end training camp. The scrimmage finished in a tie.

"It was the perfect game," Watson said. "Our guys have been at it all week. We’ve been together all summer. Had a great training camp. It’s all positive energy heading into our first preseason game."

You can watch a full replay of the scrimmage at this link.

Here are 10 additional notes from the action at the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff.

1. Assistant coaches Tyrone Corbin and Jay Triano served as the two head coaches on Saturday, while Watson roamed from huddle to huddle.

The two starting lineups were as follows: Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss and Alex Len on the black squad versus Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Jared Dudley, Dragan Bender and Tyson Chandler on the white team.

John Jenkins (five points, black), Alan Williams (five points, black), Leandro Barbosa (nine points, white) and Archie Goodwin (nine points, white) all came off the bench to play significant minutes.

2. Bledsoe’s buzzer-beater capped off an impressive day for the Suns star guard. In his first game action in front of fans since suffering a season-ending knee injury last December, Bledsoe finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He added three assists and three rebounds as well.

“I feel great, man,” Bledsoe said. “I’m just excited to be playing again. I haven’t played in a while, but my teammates encouraged me the whole time to want to come back even stronger.”

Bledsoe grinned from ear to ear as he described the game-ending sequence.

“Coach drew up a great play. We executed it and I made the shot,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

Added Booker while laughing, “I wouldn’t have let it end in a tie game.”

3. Bender, the fourth overall pick in June’s draft, got off to a slow start but hit his stride when it mattered most.

The 7-footer drained three consecutive 3-points in the fourth quarter while playing stout defense on the other end. He ended the day with 11 points, four blocks and two assists.

4. Chriss, selected four spots after Bender at No. 8, electrified the crowd on several occasions with thunderous slams.

Late in the fourth quarter, he cut the black team’s deficit to two points with less than a minute remaining on a baseline drive ending in a dunk at the rim.

His final line was 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.

“Marquese, he’s just a freak of nature,” Bledsoe said.

5. Ulis, the team’s second-round pick, picked up right where he left off in the Las Vegas Summer League with an afternoon full of playmaking.

The 5-10 guard not only used his fabulous passing acumen to generate offense for his teammates, but he created for himself too off the dribble.

He ended up with nine points, five assists and three rebounds. 

“I’m seeing Tyler Ulis continue to do things at a high level,” Watson said. “The question was can he continue to play like he did at Summer League? And we see he has that capability no matter who is on the court. 

6. The leading scorer on Saturday? That would be none other than Booker.

The second-year guard, coming off an All-Rookie season, dropped 19 points for the white team.

One of his more notable moments came in the post when he backed down Knight and finished at the rim.

“I’m a lot more comfortable (than last year),” Booker said. “I know what to expect. That was my biggest thing last year – I didn’t know what to expect. Now I’ve been through it. I was in the fire last year.” 

7. Back from a foot injury that cut his 2015-16 season short in January, Warren shined on Saturday with 14 points and four rebounds.

He has an opportunity to earn significant minutes early on this year with P.J. Tucker sidelined (back surgery).

“T.J. has been great all training camp,” Bledsoe said. “I can’t stop talking about him. He looks great.”

8. On Wednesday, Suns veterans surprised rookies with kids backpacks to bring on every road trip this season.

Before Saturday's scrimmage, the older players got in an even heartier laugh at the expense of their first-year counterparts. Dudley and Tucker organized for the rookies to dress up in Halloween costumes and compete in a dance-off at center court.

Bender played the part of a Ninja Turtle, Chriss wore a Scooby Doo onesie, Ulis was a state trooper and Williams donned a robber getup. 

The contest winner came down to Bender and Williams, with the latter garnering the loudest applause from the crowd thanks to his enthusiastic break-dancing attempt.

9. After the game ended, Suns players spent a half hour signing autographs for the more than 5,000 fans in attendance.

Watson thanked the crowd for its energy and presented NAU with a trophy pregame to celebrate 20 years of Suns training camp in Flagstaff.

10. The Suns return to action on Monday to begin their preseason slate against the San Antionio Spurs.

The game will be streamed live here on Suns.com and the Suns app beginning at 7 p.m. Arizona time.

"One thing I learned is just how close this team truly is together," Watson said. "The bond they have, the way they cheer for each other, the way they compete – this is a tough environment right here to go from training camp right into an open scrimmage. Monday is the real chance for us to see where we’re at, and we’ll continue to build from there."

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