Suns eventually pull away for 7th win in a row after another slow start
The Philadelphia 76ers were without their five best players against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford.
That put Phoenix in a great position to win comfortably on the second game of a back-to-back, after a similar situation on Monday in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But also like Monday, they didn’t quite turn up the intensity to the highest levels in the way they have almost all bubble.
This time, the 76ers made the Suns work for it much harder than the Thunder did.
In a game the Suns should have put away at some point in the first three quarters, they couldn’t until later on in a 130-117 win.
The victory is the Suns’ seventh straight, the first time since 2010 they’ve had a winning streak reach that number.
The Sixers sure made ’em work for it. Alec Burks had 23 points, Mike Scott added 17 and Raul Neto scored 22 off the bench.
It was another slow, lethargic start for the Suns, trailing by four at the end of the first quarter.
Deandre Ayton wasn’t physically there for it on Monday, but he sure was on Tuesday, and not in a good way.
Ayton has oddly picked up a habit of fumbling dump-off passes under the rim when surrounded by multiple defenders. While this has been something that popped up for him in the past, it was never at the volume it’s been at in Orlando.
On top of that, Ayton failing to go up with the ball when he actually gets it around the rim and settling for jumpers was the same typical ingredients we get blended together in that disappointing offensive smoothie we get served from time to time.
Fox Sports Arizona’s Eddie Johnson brought more attention to it during the broadcast.
Ayton’s scoring production wasn’t even there. He finished the day with eight points on 4-of-10 shooting. He also added 12 rebounds and two assists.
Fortunately, the Suns had yet another bench contribution provide the juice when they required it. Dario Saric (nine points) and Frank Kaminsky (11) lifted them in the first half.
Devin Booker got some more pep in his step for the last four minutes of the half, and the Suns responded off that energy to lead by five through 24 minutes.
This is the point most teams with the back-half of the roster would fold, but a credit to Philadelphia’s group for not doing so.
Even after Booker’s emphatic slam in the third quarter and a 32-point Suns third quarter, the 76ers hung around and only trailed by five entering the fourth quarter.
That is where the Suns’ best energy of the game came through, and finally, they put away the 76ers by getting their first double-digit lead with under five minutes to go.
Booker finished with 35 points, passing Walter Davis for his franchise-record 91st game with 30 or more points. He was 11-of-24 from the field and 11-for-12 at the foul line.
Mikal Bridges recovered nicely from a few pedestrian offensive performances with 22 points. Ditto for Ricky Rubio accumulating 16 points, five rebounds and 10 assists.
Saric finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists off the bench.
The Suns are one more win and a pinch of good fortune away from making the play-in tournament for the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
The problem is they’ll very likely need Ayton to step it up in those game(s) to win. The ball-handler/center duo of Ja Morant/Jonas Valanciunas or Damian Lillard/Jusuf Nurkic will ask a lot out of Ayton on both ends.
Most of his play in the bubble has been him looking disconnected, lacking the proper mentality on the interior.
That’s not going to fly if the Suns want to keep playing at this level and beyond, and if you looked closely enough on Tuesday, you could see it starting to really frustrate some of his teammates because they know that.