Aron Baynes scores 37 points as Suns win 25th game of the season
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns needed a player to spark energy and score the way Kelly Oubre did. They needed a center to fill in for Deandre Ayton while he’s out with a left ankle sprain.
On Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers, they found one guy who filled both roles.
Center Aron Baynes led the Suns to a 127-117 victory as he scored 37 points with nine 3-pointers, grabbed 16 rebounds and had two blocks, becoming the only player in NBA history to put up such numbers. Take away the blocks and he’s joined by Houston Rockets guard James Harden.
His nine 3-pointers ties a franchise record with Channing Frye in 2011, Quentin Richardson in 2004 and Rex Chapman in the 1997 playoffs.
“Big credit to (Boston Celtics head coach) Brad Stevens. When I was in Boston, he saw that I’d been working on it and he said look, the best shot for our team is you taking that three,” Baynes said.
“When your head coach is giving you that type of confidence it really rubs off. (Suns head coach) Monty’s (Williams) been the same.”
In doing so, the Suns won their 25th game of the season, the first time the team has reached that mark in guard Devin Booker’s career.
“Especially for me, the way my career’s went, I want to get every win that I can. So I don’t have time to take a night off,” Booker said. “The NBA season’s a grind and I don’t take it for granted. I love the process of coming here, working every day. I love the process of losing and finding out ways to win.”
Baynes was hot early. After starting with a pump fake and then driving to the rim for a dunk, he made all five 3-pointers he attempted in the first quarter.
Prior to the game, head coach Monty Williams said Baynes wasn’t going to get normal starter minutes. He wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.
Well, technically Williams wasn’t wrong about the minutes: Baynes played 36.
“When a guy makes that many threes, he can stay on the floor as long as he wants,” Williams said.
The Suns’ defense was also strong to start the game: As Baynes racked up five 3-pointers in the first quarter, Damian Lillard started 0-for-4. Carmelo Anthony was 0-for-5.
Baynes, with 19 points and seven assists in the first quarter alone, helped Phoenix take a 34-22 lead.
Phoenix was trying to draw center Hassan Whiteside away from the paint. At the rim, his defense is brutal: Whiteside finished four blocks and 20 rebounds. When he’s away, though, the spacing is better and guards like Booker can drive past when he’s switched onto them.
Saric made a pair of 3-pointers and had a season-high 24 points.
“I think (Baynes) freed up a lot of space,” Booker said. “With the floor’s spaced like that, especially against a Portland team, the way they defend with Whiteside protecting the paint a lot, I think he opened up the court.”
But as the Suns are prone to do, they allowed runs. After Phoenix extended the lead to 23 in the second quarter, the Blazers rattled off 20 points in a row, 14 coming from Trevor Ariza and CJ McCollum, and the lead was cut to three.
This game, though, Phoenix held off the opposition and put together runs of its own to stop the bleeding.
Over the final 1:17, the Suns made eight points and built the lead back up for halftime.
“This team is growing in our poise and emotional regulation. That’s something that a lot of young teams have to deal with,” Williams said.
“Every time they got it within striking distance, either in timeout or on the floor, I didn’t think we panicked at all. And that’s something that we didn’t see earlier in the year. You still can lose a game like that, but I’m starting to see a bit more even-keeled demeanor when those guys are in that situation.”
Point guard Ricky Rubio was instrumental in getting Phoenix back on track when Portland would start to strike. He had 13 points and 10 assists and his plus-minus was a ridiculous +32.
The best example of his impact: In the third quarter, Rubio was subbed out with 5:05 in the quarter and an 88-62 lead. The Blazers went on a 15-2 run over the next 3:13 as Elie Okobo fouled Lillard on a 3-point attempt and then got stripped by Gary Trent Jr. Okobo fouled Trent weakly on a transition layup and gave up the and-one. Trent and the Blazers continued to outmatch the Suns physically until Rubio checked back in.
Rubio stepped onto the court and promptly hit a 3-pointer, evening out the Suns.
“He’s a calming presence for us out there. There’s not any situation that he hasn’t seen,” Baynes said. “He’s able to go out there and get us focused on what we need to do the next play and find the right guy.”
Lillard and McCollum piled on in the fourth, finishing the game with 24 and 25 points, respectively, but the Suns kept a distance in their lead and snapped the Oubre-less losing streak.
Booker had 23 points, 12 assists. Bridges had 18 points, a plus-minus of +23 and played good defense — “He picked up the head of the snake and he was putting his body on the line,” Baynes said. Saric added eight rebounds and three steals to his 24-point night.
As a team, the Suns went 19-for-42 from behind the arc as Rubio and Booker often found the open man.
“We just take what the defense gives us, honestly,” Booker said. “I’d look like an (expletive) if I didn’t pass the ball to those guys standing with nobody 6-10 feet away from them.”
This game, those guys made those shots. Every starter finished with double-digit points. Baynes won’t score 37 every night, but consistent contributions from everyone, and taking pressure off Booker, is what it will take for Phoenix to inch closer to that 30-win mark without Oubre.