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Thomas, Len lead Suns past Spurs

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Updated 11 months ago on
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PHOENIX — Last year, guard Isaiah Thomas was toiling in Sacramento for the lowly Kings and center Alex Len played sparingly in 42 games as rookie with Phoenix.

Friday night, the young duo served as a 1-2 punch off the bench to help wear down and finally finish off the San Antonio Spurs with a furious fourth-quarter surge.

Thomas had 18 of his 23 points in the second half and Len had career highs with 10 points and 11 rebounds as the Suns ended the game on a 12-2 run and rallied to beat the Spurs 94-89 and sweep a two-game homestand to open the season.

The Spurs led by as many as 15 points but had only six baskets in an 18-point fourth quarter. Playing without guard Patty Mills and center Tiago Splitter, they ran out of gas late, scoring two points in the final five minutes and couldn’t hold off the young Suns.

“The shots they were making in the first half and the third quarter they weren’t making in the fourth quarter,” said Thomas, who has led the Suns with 23 points in each of the first two games. “The Spurs are an older team and we want to push the pace, especially against them, and play as fast as possible.

Forward Markieff Morris added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Suns, who were 11-18 against Western Conference playoff teams in last year’s 48-win season that wasn’t good enough to reach the postseason. But their first test this year against the defending NBA champions had an impressive result.

Tony Parker had 19 points for the Spurs and Tim Duncan added 16 points and nine rebounds. Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP a year ago and playing for the first time this season, missed all five of his shots from the field and managed six points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.

“I know we’re supposed to be 82-0 but I’m guessing we’re going to lose some more games before the season is over,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I thought the last five minutes their physicality and aggressiveness was great. I thought it forced us into turnovers and bas shots, thus the outcome of the game.”

The Spurs led by five at 87-82 on an Austin Daye 3-pointer with 5:09 left. But the Suns kept pushing the pace and scoring and took their first lead of the game when Thomas finished off a Morris fastbreak pass to make it 88-87 with 3:34 left to play.

Phoenix took their biggest at 92-87 on two great plays by Len, the 7-foot-1 Ukranian who was taken fifth overall in the 2013 draft but played only 362 minutes in his rookie season. Len tipped out an offensive rebound of a Markieff Morris miss to keep a possession alive and then fed Morris for a dunk with 1:09 left to make it 92-87 Suns.

“Coach drew up a play for (Eric Bledsoe) and he passed to me and I saw Markieff’s guy drop down and leave him open,” Len said. “Last year was the toughest year for me in basketball. I wanted to get out there but I couldn’t, so I stayed in the weight room and worked on other stuff. Now I’m healthy and I’m getting comfortable.”

Len had a measure of success in his first meeting against Duncan, a player he had studied carefully.

“I watched a lot of film on Tim Duncan the whole summer.” He said. “He’s one of the best big men to play the game. We wanted to make him shoot contested jump shots.”

The Spurs got back within three on two Manu Ginobili free throws and had a chance to tie the game down three with 6.5 seconds left, but forward Boris Diaw was called for a five-second violation and two Eric Bledsoe free throws with 4.5 seconds left sealed the game.

“We were in a position the whole night, we just didn’t execute down the stretch,” said Duncan who missed both is shots from the field in the final quarter and a pair of free throws with 3:02 left. “That’s the difference in a lot of games. Some great plays by the young kid, Alex Len, good rebounds by him.”

The Suns put up 33 points and hit six 3-pointers in the first quarter of Wednesday’s 119-99 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers, but it was a different story against the Spurs. They missed 13 of 14 shots to end the quarter and the Spurs used an 18-3 run to lead by as many as 15.

Phoenix warmed up and rebounded quickly with a 13-2 run to start the second quarter and eventually tied the game when. Bledsoe hit Len on the fastbreak for a reverse, alley-oop slam to tie the game at 30 with six minutes left in the half. Len had 10 points in 16 first-half minutes.

But the Spurs regained their stagger immediately and stretched their lead to 45-36 at the half. Parker led all scorers with 14 points in the first half and added four assists. The Suns pushed hard again in the third but the Spurs took a 71-67 lead to the fourth quarter when Diaw capped an eight-point quarter by beating the buzzer with a fastbreak layin.

NOTES: The Spurs are still without C Tiago Splitter (calf) and G Patty Mills (shoulder). … F Kawhi Leonard replaced Marco Bellinelli in the starting lineup and C Austin Daye, who did not play in the 101-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, started in place of Matt Bonner. The 16 3-pointers Phoenix made in the 119-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday was the most by a Suns team since they made 17 against Charlotte on Dec. 19, 2012. … G Isaiah Thomas had 23 points in his Phoenix debut against the Lakers, the most by a Sun in his first game since Tom Gugliotta had 24 in the strike-shortened 1999-2000 season. It was the most ever by a Sun who came off the bench in his debut. … F P.J. Tucker served the second his three-game suspension for Phoenix.

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