PHOENIX — Mind you, Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight believes he’s still in the final stages of recovery from spring surgery to repair an injured left ankle that sabotaged the final month of last season.
So maybe it’s an indication of just how effective Knight can be when he scored 37 points against a banged-up Los Angeles Clippers backcourt in the Suns’ 118-104 victory on Thursday.
Knight tied his his career high set with Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve 2013, while making 6-of-10 three-pointers as the Suns broke a two-game losing streak. He’s gotten those shots most of the year because of point guard Eric Bledsoe’s ability to draw defenders and dish, and the Suns believe his 34 percent mark from distance, a decent percentage, could even improve.
He also scored on mid-range jumpers and floaters while running off pick-and-rolls Thursday, and those types of plays go directly to the condition of his ankle.
“That comes with continuing to get healthy and being able to turn that corner,” Knight said, “because you have to plant and really explode, especially when you have an athletic big like (DeAndre) Jordan or (Blake) Griffin showing. That stuff will come back in time for me.
“For now,” he continued, “Just continuing to be aggressive off the pick-and-roll, trying to turn the corner. Try to make the defense see a little bit something different.”
Knight and Bledsoe faced a greatly different Clippers backcourt Thursday. Starting off-guard J.J. Redick missed the game because of a back injury suffered in the second quarter of a loss at Dallas on Wednesday, and point guard Chris Paul was a late scratch because of a groin injury.
Paul has battled finger, eye and groin injuries this season, prompting Clippers coach Doc Rivers to say before the game, “When he’s not great, we’re not as good, obviously.”
The Suns normally lead with Knight and Bledsoe, anyway, but the pair took the play right at reserves-turned-starters Austin Rivers and Pablo Prigioni. The Suns’ guards had 41 points in the first half and 63 in the game, with Bledsoe adding 26 points.
And the fact that neither Paul nor Redick played, or that All-Star forward Blake Griffin was ejected from the game after receiving a second technical foul with 2:36 remaining in the second quarter when it was 49-48, didn’t take any of the luster away in the Suns’ eyes.
“We did what we were supposed to do, no matter who played,” Bledsoe said. “We are playing to make the playoffs. Whoever is on the court is whoever on the court. There is no excuse.”
Knight saw a return to the necessary approach in the Suns’ first game after a 124-103 loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday. The Suns had lost their previous game at home to Detroit and had three days to prepare for the Clippers, who had beaten them in the last eight meetings. That was not lost on the Suns, either.
“Guys came in ready to play tonight, and that’s what we need every single night,” Knight said. “It can’t just be tonight or at home. We have to try to make that a consistent effort if we want to be a playoff team. Playoff teams do it every single night.”
Of the absence of Paul and Redick, he added: “A win is a win in this league. Everybody is in the NBA for a reason. We’re going to take it. They have some guys not playing, but they still have some great guys over there that did play. For us, it was just a matter of focusing on ourselves. We can’t determine who they play, but it’s about what we do. We’re going to take this win.”
Bledsoe, reinserted when the Clippers closed a 25-point deficit to 15 in the final five minutes, finished with 10 rebounds and was one assist short of his fourth career triple-double.
“Having a triple-double would have been fun, but at the end of the day it is about the win,” Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe’s ability to force help is one of the reasons the Suns believe they have an ideal backcourt teammate in Knight, who signed a five-year, $70 million contract in the offseason, a contract that equals the one Bledsoe signed last year.
That gives the Suns four more years of what they got a good look at Thursday.
“Whenever we watch (Knight) shoot and he gets a kick-out (pass) like that, we think it’s automatic,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “So the more of that he can get, the better.
“I thought he did a great job of coming off those screens and not just pulling up right away but taking one extra dribble and getting in that 16-, 18-foot range. Again, if he gets it there, he’s automatic on those shots, too.”