EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Booker notches another double-double, Suns snap 6-game losing streak

Apr 1, 2019, 10:46 PM

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1), forward Mikal Bridges (25) and forward Richaun Holmes (21) cel...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1), forward Mikal Bridges (25) and forward Richaun Holmes (21) celebrate a win in the closing moments of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Monday, April 1, 2019, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Cavaliers 122-113. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — There’s some type of April fools joke inside of the Phoenix Suns playing against what they usually are on Monday night.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were inept at just about everything against the Suns, most notably on defense, where the Suns carved them up to a 122-113 win.

Phoenix shot nearly 55 percent, had 28 assists to 13 turnovers and scored 28 points on the fastbreak. They did so without Deandre Ayton, making it the Suns’ first win in seven tries without Ayton. Once again, they were also missing Tyler Johnson and T.J. Warren.

After scoring 157 points in three games, Devin Booker elected to play the game manager role against Cleveland. He only scored two points on five shots in the first quarter but had six of his 13 assists.

“I read and react when I’m out there on the court so my job tonight was to get everybody involved and make sure everybody got open shots and they were knocking them down tonight,” Booker said, noting someone from the bench joked with him early that he wasn’t getting 50 on this night.

The Cavaliers’ zone defense was so fundamentally bad that it didn’t take much for Booker to create open shots, making it an easy night of attacking off the dribble and forcing a help defender to come over.

Booker finished with 25 points to go along with the 13 dimes, his second straight double-double.

In a twist, the Suns took control of the game when Booker sat in the first half. For the opening 6:13 of the second quarter, Phoenix went on a 21-12 run to lead by 17.

That’s a huge credit to the Suns’ supporting cast, which was great all night.

Josh Jackson had just about his best game of the season.

Since he was drafted No. 4 overall in 2017, we’ve only seen rare glimpses of Jackson’s Kansas form, the swiss army knife impact player all over the court who fills up the box score. The most important part of that form is that Jackson plays more under control and doesn’t get too reckless.

So regardless of Jackson having 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and five blocks, the fact that he was heavily involved with 11 shot attempts and the assists without turning the ball over inspires hope.

“Just keeping this team alive with his energy,” Booker said of Jackson’s play.

Booker noted that when the Cavaliers came crawling back into the game, there were big plays made by individuals, and Jackson had a few.

Near the end of the third quarter, Jackson turned defense into offense.

He did it again by later on by rejecting former teammate Brandon Knight to set up points on the other end.

Jamal Crawford added 19 of his own with another five assists off the bench. In the starting lineup, Richaun Holmes had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Dragan Bender matched his double-double with 12 and 10 of his own. Each of Mikal Bridges’ 15 points felt big, including two separate four-point plays.

Cleveland’s lack of overall talent showed immensely throughout the game when it came to offensive creation. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton was an expected roller coaster all game long, finishing with 21 points on 23 shots. He didn’t do much to run the offense or set up his teammates and he’s in a spot on that team where they really need him to do that.

So when it’s on the likes of Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Knight to do most of the damage off the bounce for flow, an adequate defensive effort will suffice. The Cavaliers had three fastbreak points.

Mini-rallies would come from the opposition, including the start of the fourth quarter when Cleveland got within five, but the game was never truly in jeopardy. The Suns effortlessly flicked the Cavaliers away when they got close.

Losers of their last six with four starters on the injury list, it’s easy to say this was a much-needed victory for the Suns after the frustrations of strong efforts with a shorthanded squad like against Memphis and Sacramento.

It showed on the bench, where the Suns were having a whole lot of fun and standing up throughout various parts of the game.

“I think it’s very important,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said of that energy coming from his bench and the fans as well.

“It just feels like a completely different environment to play in,” Jackson said. “When you feel that, it’s just all around you. When you look around and your guys on your bench are jumping up, cheering for you — it just makes you want to play even harder.”

While the win can be viewed as one large exhale of rare joy in their season, the Suns’ youth and how much this group is expected to stay together next season makes every moment like Monday’s more than that. They’ll get two more chances to do so at home against Utah on Wednesday and New Orleans on Friday before wrapping up the season with two games on the road in Texas.

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