Suns translate intense practices to locked-in scrimmage win over Jazz

Jul 23, 2020, 8:36 PM | Updated: 10:52 pm

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns yells from the bench during a 120-99 LA Clipper win at Staples C...

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns yells from the bench during a 120-99 LA Clipper win at Staples Center on December 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Leading up to their first game, the Phoenix Suns were buzzing the past two weeks coming out of practice.

Head coach Monty Williams and his players were heavy in their praise for the level of competition they were holding. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton seemed overeager to get back to playing against other teams, itching to be back in that competitive landscape.

It turns out this was not all talk, as the Suns came out on Thursday in their first scrimmage looking all the way locked in during a 101-88 win over the Utah Jazz.

From the huddle in the tunnel prior to pregame warmups, the mentality was there, with Ayton leading it and one Suns player referring to this game as not a scrimmage but “game one.”

Booker, in particular, has stated multiple times from Orlando that the result Thursday night is what he wants from his team the most.

“We showed what we’ve been working on and that’s just our competitive spirit and how we’re just going to get after it,” he said after the game. “Tonight was an example of that and we have to continue to be that way.”

“We’ve been talking about not taking days off and having a level of intensity that is obviously exciting to play in, is contagious, but also being able to disrupt other teams,” Williams said. “We know it’s a preseason game but I told the guys in the locker room, ‘We do not have the luxury of taking a night off.’ The position that we’re in, we have to fight and claw on every possession.

“And our practices have been like that, what you saw tonight from our team.”

The Suns jumped out to a 28-19 lead through the first quarter, and by the first TV timeout, it was clear that the Jazz needed these scrimmages to get engaged and the Suns did not. That held out through the entire game, one Phoenix led a majority of.

Booker asserted himself early with a few buckets and assists, and while the rest of his night fell a bit flat with 13 points and three assists, his team was there to pick him up.

All nine Suns players that played rotation minutes over the shortened 40-minute scrimmage scored at least eight points and no one had to score more than 14 for a win.

That included Ty Jerome, who got the start in place of Ricky Rubio, and was mostly fine. He was picked on defensively and couldn’t get by guys off the dribble as usual, but avoided the rookie hiccups and found a way to keep making plays.

This is an example of how his active play as a ball-handler can open things up better than anyone else off the bench.

“There are times where the speed of the game can overwhelm him but I didn’t see the same look on his face that I saw in the first 65 games and that was really cool to watch,” Williams said of Jerome.

The first-round pick finished with eight points, a rebound, three assists and a steal.

The other fill-in for the starting lineup was the far more experienced Mikal Bridges, taking the place of Kelly Oubre Jr.

The break looks to have done wonders for Bridges’ confidence, as those small spurts of off-the-dribble potential combined into a handful of buckets Thursday.

There’s attacking the basket for a lay-in with length like the first clip here and then there’s hitting two-dribble leaners off the glass over the rim protector.

The latter is all confidence.

“Mikal’s a guy that I want to be aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Williams said.

“I like the aggression and I don’t want to mess with him.”

Bridges had a team-high 14 points with five rebounds.

Elsewhere, Ayton finally attempted a planned three-pointer … and he made it!

Williams said after the game that’s a shot they want if Jazz center Rudy Gobert is going to sag off Ayton like he did on that shot.

As Williams has brought up leading to the game, it’s something they are willing to mix in more and he’s encouraged by the much better arc you can see on Ayton’s three-ball now.

Ayton had 13 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes.

New addition Cam Payne ran the offense as Jerome’s backup and looked comfy doing so, hitting five of his seven shots for 11 points.

“I bet he would admit that he’s looking to manage the game more than he did when I was with him in OKC,” Williams said.

Dario Saric should get a mention too. While his shot wasn’t falling at a 3-for-10 mark, he was hyper-aggressive attacking the basket against smaller Jazz power forwards to use his strength for points, with 12 on the night.

Williams said after the game that he’s never heard Saric talk this much in his life, speaking on a newfound energy from one of his bigs.

And that can tie us back to the central theme of the scrimmage through a complete team effort, having no need to overly rely on Booker or Ayton or even guys like Rubio and Oubre to bring a certain amount of production, leadership and energy.

The Suns did that all on their own, but together.

“Even when they go on runs, even when teams get it going, (we) come together even more at that time and use each other to get back in the game and that’s what we did today,” Booker said.

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