PHOENIX — There’s no washing away the bad defense the Indiana Pacers put forth on the perimeter. Unlike T.J. Warren, who didn’t have a reputation for defense but has become a key defender, Jeremy Lamb has a long way to go to meet those expectations.
Malcolm Brogdon can have issues with small, speedy guards and boxing out his man to prevent offensive rebounds, but, by and large, he can hold his own.
Of the three Pacers newcomers, Lamb has lagged behind and it was never more obvious than in a 30-point loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday in the second game of a back-to-back.
Box score: Pacers 112, Suns 87
Wednesday, Lamb was hit with early foul trouble and didn’t score until midway through the second quarter, when coach Nate McMillan called an elbow action to get him a shot in a 112-87 victory against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
They didn’t really need his production against one of the league’s lesser teams. Lamb’s production continues to slide as the Pacers (29-16) improved to 2-1 on the trip, with games remaining Friday at Golden State and Sunday at Portland. The Suns (18-26) didn’t pose much of a threat after halftime.
Warren, who was taken in the 2014 lottery by the Suns, continued to thrive on both ends.
“There was a lot of emotions but as soon as the ball went into the air it was time to play basketball and that’s all I was focused on,” Warren said. “It definitely felt good to come back to a place where I spent my first five years. They gave me my start. I’m very grateful for that.”
Warren ended it.
Suns coach Monty Williams, who is in his first season here and didn’t not have Warren, could only heap praise on him. Warren made 11 of 18 shots as the Pacers won for the sixth time in seven games.
“That’s what he does. He has done that his whole career,” Williams said. “Not one 3-point shot. Just 2, 2, 2. You force him to take those shots but he made them. That’s the game within the game. You have to know a guy like that is going to come back here and try to make you pay. And he did.”
Standouts: Warren (game-high 25 points, 3 steals) and Domantas Sabonis (24 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists) were the only starters in double figures, but others contributed. Myles Turner (9 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks) kept the paint clean. Brogdon (5 points, 16 minutes) had to leave early because of an injury, while Lamb (4 points, 3 rebounds) only shot 2-for-9 in playing just 21 minutes. Kelly Oubre (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Devin Booker (16 points) led Phoenix.
Xs and Os: Warren got the assignment on Booker, the Suns’ best scorer, and held him to one field goal until he exited the first quarter. Booker, who is averaging 30.9 points on 52% shooting this month, attempted just 12 shots and didn’t make a 3. The Suns were just 4-for-18 from long range. Warren has defended the better perimeter players all season, something he wasn’t noted for in Phoenix. The Suns extended ball pressure and denied passing lanes to slow them down, but Doug McDermott (12 points) and Justin Holiday (11 points) responded with cuts to beat it to get buckets at the rim. Phoenix had no answer for Sabonis inside. He isolated and executed vs. Dario Saric (4 points) and Deandre Ayton (10 points) with ease. He called for it with Ayton on his hip and drew a third foul on him with 4:34 left in the first half.
A cut above: Brogdon had to leave after taking an accidental elbow from Turner to his left brow in a scrum for a rebound that required three stitches. While he hasn’t been diagnosed with a concussion, the team will monitor during the next 24 hours to make sure he doesn’t develop symptoms, two officials told IndyStar. T.J. McConnell (10 points, 11 assists) started the second half and dominated the action, getting double-digit assists for the second game in a row off the bench (fourth time this season, all as a reserve). He had 10 assists in Utah and earned his ninth career double-double. McMillan had been going to Aaron Holiday (7 points) in Brogdon’s absence until recently with better results. McConnell is a traditional point guard while Holiday tends to look to score first. The Pacers had 26 assists — double Phoenix’s output — on 45 field goals. They got 45 points from the bench.
Locker room talk: “We had a day off. We got rest. I don’t think anybody was happy with our performance in Utah so we watched a lot of film and that really helped us.” — Sabonis
“I loved the way we responded for 48 minutes. This is a scrappy team. They’re going to play hard. Our defense was solid. We did a good job of keeping them in front. Our weak side was pretty loaded, trying to keep them out of the paint. Offensively we did a good job of making them defend. We had movement on the offensive end of the floor and that certainly helps when you are making them defend.” — McMillan
“Sabonis’ ability to just back our guys down — some of that is just one-on-one pride.” — Williams