Missing Alex Len and losing Tyson Chandler plus foul trouble for Marquese Chriss made for, at times, a very small lineup for the home team in their Friday night matchup against the Chicago Bulls.
It also provided an opportunity for reserve center Alan Williams, who had played double-digit minutes only three times this season prior to Friday night’s game.
He stepped up, as did his teammates, and the Phoenix Suns ended a three-game losing streak and seven-game slide at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 115-97.
Williams thrilled the 18,055 on hand, the season’s sixth home sellout, with his fourth career double-double (14 points and 11 rebounds). He added four blocks as part of his 24 minutes.
Devin Booker (27) and Eric Bledsoe (23) combined for 50 points, outscoring the Bulls’ leading tandem of Jimmy Butler (20) and Dwyane Wade (18).
Butler had not played in the previous three games because of a right heel contusion, while Wade returned after a one-game absence due to illness.
The Bulls (26-28) have lost three of four.
Without their two seven-footers, the Suns relied on small-ball in addition to Williams.
Len served his one-game suspension for leaving the bench area during Wednesday’s altercation in Memphis. Chandler, meanwhile, sprained his right ankle late in the first half.
After rallying from an early nine-point deficit, the Suns (17-37) maintained a double-digit lead for much of the second half, seeing their advantage balloon to as many as 20 late in the fourth quarter.
It was just the Suns’ second win in the past 10 games.
Down nine, the Suns closed the first quarter on a 12-1 run with Booker accounting for all 12 points. He scored seven and assisted on a Chandler dunk and Chriss 3-pointer. Booker, who missed his first two shot attempts, finished the period 5-of-8, including one 3, and a pair of free throws for a game-high 13 points; all of which helped give the Suns a 28-26 advantage entering the second quarter.
Much like the first, the Suns closed the second quarter strong with eight straight points to go into halftime with a 56-43 lead, their largest advantage of the first half. P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren each had four points. Warren finished the period with eight, hitting 4-of-5 shot attempts. The Suns outscored the Bulls 23-6 over the last nine minutes as Chicago went 3-of-16 from the field with three turnovers.
Sure, Bledsoe (10) and Booker (nine) had more third-quarter points, but it was Williams who really stood out with six points and, perhaps more importantly, six rebounds and one blocked shot in the period. Closing in on a double-double, he had already reached double-digits in scoring with 10 total points, the third time he’s reached double figures this season and first since Nov. 19 at Philadelphia.
Fast hands once again for Tucker, who finished with three steals, his 15th consecutive game with at least one steal, tying Shannon Brown (15 straight in 2012-13) for the longest streak by a Suns player since Shawn Marion did so in 17 straight in 2006-07. Tucker is averaging 2.33 steals over this 15-game span. By the way, he also had seven points, seven rebounds and two assists in his 33 minutes.
Greeted with boos during pregame introductions, Robin Lopez, the former Suns center, scored four of his six first-quarter points during a 17-4 run that put the Bulls in front, 25-16, at the 2:01 mark of the period. Butler also had four points and two assists during the four-plus minute stretch. He finished the quarter with a team-best eight points, three assists and one steal in 10 minutes.
It was a scare and nothing more. At the 3:50 mark of the second quarter, Chandler landed awkwardly on his right ankle. He tried to walk it off, but instead he hobbled off the court to the bench. A short time later, Chandler (six points, five rebounds and two assists in 12 minutes) made his way back to the locker room, where he remained the rest of the game for further treatment.
Whatever was ailing Wade (it was called an upper respiratory illness) appeared to be completely out of his system by the time the third quarter started because in the third he scored 11 of his then-18 points, a team-high by the way, in just over nine minutes of playing time. Wade made 5-of-8 field goal attempts, including an and-1. He also had three rebounds and an assist in the period.
STAT OF THE GAME
25:9, the Suns’ assist-to-turnover ratio was one of their better efforts of the season, in fact this was the team’s second game this season with at least 25 assists while turning it over fewer than 10 times with the other being on Dec. 9, 2016 at the Lakers (26 assists, eight turnovers)
HE SAID IT
“Smallest team, biggest heart. We believe that,” head coach Earl Watson said. “Small as far as height, the biggest heart, our guys they stay together, they fight together. Sometimes literally, at the end of the Memphis game they were ready to fight. But our guys, they love each other, they stick together. We just keep navigating through this season. It hasn’t been the easiest season, but we understand where we started and the journey and the realities of this season, with our young, feisty roster we continue to push forward.”
Chriss was presented with the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award (Jan.) just before tip-off.
Len missed his third game of the season; the previous two were because of a right hip contusion (Dec.13-15).
Ronnie Price was active, marking only the third time he’s been in uniform since rejoining the Suns on Jan. 27.
Former Suns all-star and fan favorite Shawn Marion was among those in attendance; he had a courtside seat.
Scouts from eight NBA teams were in attendance, including playoff contenders the Celtics, Hawks and Spurs.
About an hour after the buzzer sounded, the Suns found themselves on a bus headed to the airport for a flight to Houston, where they’ll face James Harden and the Rockets on Saturday, Feb. 11. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
This is the third of four meetings.
The Rockets have won both matchups thus far, including most recently on Dec. 26 at Toyota Center, 131-115. That contest saw Dragan Bender have the best game of his young career with 11 points, 13 rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks in 27 minutes.
James Harden led all scorers with 32 points.
Overall, the Suns have lost nine of the last 11 in the series.
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