Adelaide 36ers coach C.J. Bruton compared their matchup Sunday against Phoenix to the Rocky movies when the underdog southpaw from Philadelphia faced Apollo Creed.
“There’s a chance when you mingle and you dance together, is this an exhibition or is this not,” Bruton said before the preseason game. “Every game I step on the stage or have my team step on the stage, we’re here to compete.”
The 36ers did more than compete.
They outplayed the Suns in an 134-124 upset at Footprint Center before a crowd of 15,152 that began making an early exit late in the fourth.
Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton each scored 22 points while Devin Booker added 13 as Suns coach Monty Williams didn’t play his starters in the fourth quarter.
36ers guard Craig Randall II led all scorers with 35 points, hitting 9-of-17 from 3. Robert Franks added 32 points as he connected on 6-of-10 from 3.
As a team, Adelaide knocked down an insane 24-of-43 3s while Phoenix struggled in going 9-of-34.
The 36ers are out of Australia’s NBL and play Oklahoma City later this week.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game. The Suns continue preseason play Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakes in Las Vegas.
Bridges and Ayton
Ayton still scored off pick-and-roll with Paul.
Bridges connected from 3. Went 3-of-4.
This is what they’ve done, but Ayton and Bridges did more than that Sunday.
Ayton faced up, put the ball on the floor and scored at the basket while Bridges handled the ball more and scored off the bounce in transition and halfcourt.
The two combined to shoot 19-of-26 from the field.
So clearly both have worked on their game.
The question is can Bridges and Ayton do those things within the offense when Booker or Paul has it going.
Better yet, can they do it when Booker and Paul aren’t rolling.
The Suns offense is a work in progress because they’re having Bridges and Johnson handle the ball more and establishing Ayton as an offensive option beyond the pick-and-roll.
Chris Paul handled the ball less and only took four shots in scoring six points, but had 12 assists. Truth be told, he shouldn’t have to score as much this season if Ayton, Bridges, Johnson and Booker are doing what they need to do.
Johnson is a new starter and went 0-for-4 from 3 in scoring just four points. Hit a couple of pullups, but finding his way with that first unit may take some time.
Booker’s offense is not a concern.
The offense will figure itself out, but the Suns have been one of the league’s better defensive teams under Williams.
Wouldn’t have known that Sunday.
The 36ers not only started hot and stayed that way from 3, they got wide open looks.
Wide open in the half court and in transition.
Now some were from way out, but the Suns never slowed them down.
Never. Just preseason, but curious to see how they defend the Lakers in Vegas.
Monty Williams said he wasn’t going to “mess around with rotations tonight as far as playing different combinations.”
He’s probably going to need to mess with that second unit.
Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Damion Lee, Torrey Craig and Jock Landale came into the game for the starters in the first quarter.
So Lee and Landale are new.
Got to take that into account, but this unit struggled on the defensive and didn’t have any one who can just get hot and be a focal point of the offense.
Cam Johnson could do that, but now he’s starting with Jae Crowder not with the team and expected to be traded.
Landale is active, but missed all three of his 3-point attempts. Craig at the four is ideal against certain teams, but not every team.
Then Williams replaced Landale with Bismack Biyombo in the second unit in the second quarter. Biyombo knows the offense and defense, but the Suns are 4-on-5 on offense.
Josh Okogie is out with a left hamstring strain. Better defender, but he’s not big offensive threat.
The bigger question is Dario Saric.
Williams says it’s difficult to play four bigs. Saric was the odd man out Sunday.
He hasn’t played in an NBA game since Game 1 of the 2021 finals when suffering the torn right ACL.
May still be getting reacclimated to the league, but this was against an NBL team that’s closer to who he played against in EuroBasket with the Croatian national team.
The vibe is different.
Not bad. Just different.
Payne said after Saturday’s open practice that the team was working on chemistry and made reference to Jae Crowder.
“He was a talker,” Payne said.
Crowder connected the team because he related to everyone. Not sure who that person is for Phoenix right now.
Again, this was a preseason game, but just didn’t feel the connection as an entire team.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism