Ex-Cats

Tyler Ulis’ career-high 20 points includes game-winner for Suns

Former Kentucky stars Tyler Ulis and Eric Bledsoe celebrated the Suns’ win over the Celtics after Ulis hit the game-winning three-pointer.
Former Kentucky stars Tyler Ulis and Eric Bledsoe celebrated the Suns’ win over the Celtics after Ulis hit the game-winning three-pointer. Phoenix Suns

Former University of Kentucky star Tyler Ulis was already having a career night.

Then the rookie went and hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in the Phoenix Suns’ 109-106 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.

With the game tied at 106, the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas had the ball knocked away by Marquese Chriss. It bounced to Ulis and he shot the ball over Thomas as the buzzer sounded.

“I figured it would come down to me having to take a late shot,” Ulis told the Associated Press. “Not like that, you know, off the steal, but I just shot it with confidence.”

The shot happened in front of the Suns’ bench and the postgame celebration was boisterous.

“A couple of them had me in a headlock,” Ulis told Fox Sports Arizona in a postgame interview. “Smacking me in my neck. Just really excited. The adrenaline was running, so I didn’t feel it.”

Ulis had scored 15 points in the first half to eclipse his previous career high of 14 points set in his most recent game.

He finished with 20 points, five assists, two rebounds and one steal. He didn’t have a turnover and was plus-9 in career-high 33 minutes.

“I just try to bring it night in and night out,” Ulis said.

Ulis was 8-for-12 from the field, but his game-winner was the only three-pointer he attempted.

“I love being on the floor with Tyler,” said Chriss, who is also a rookie. “He showed he’s not afraid to take a big shot. He comes in, he’s our sparkplug. He does everything that he needs to do. He plays well. He gets everybody involved, and he just takes over a game.”

The Suns have won three straight games for the first time this season.

Fellow former Wildcats Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker pitched in with 28 and 16 points, respectively. Bledsoe also had nine assists and six rebounds.

Chriss had 10 points, six rebounds and five blocked shots.

It was no surprise that Booker was thrilled for his Ulis, his best friend.

“Everybody looked at him as a pass-first point guard,” Booker told the AP, “but he can pretty much do it all. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen him do much of all this. Here on the NBA level, I think a lot more people are getting to see it.”

More from Ulis

Ulis’ playing time has increased, at the expense of ex-Cat Brandon Knight, since the All-Star break as the Suns have elected to evaluate what they have in the second-round draft pick.

He has averaged 12.8 points, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 turnovers in 23.5 minutes in his past four games.

“We truly have to see if Tyler Ulis can be a dominant ball-handler in the second unit,” Suns Coach Earl Watson told ArizonaSports.com last week. “To play Brandon Knight with Tyler right now makes no sense because Tyler will sometimes, if not half of the time, will end up being off of the ball. We need to see if Tyler can be that guy.”

Ulis’ strong four-game stretch was preceded by a rough outing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 26. He was 1-for-7 with two points and two assists in 14 minutes.

“He said all season he knew he would play eventually,” Watson said. “Had a tough game versus Milwaukee. Honest conversations. He took it to heart and he took it to the next level. That’s three dominant point guards in our league that he’s helped us to overcome. And it gives Bled a better chance to be Bled. It’s not a lot of pressure on Bled anymore when you have that guy … changing the game, not just defensively but also scoring points.”

Dennis Varney: 859-231-3514, @ExCats

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