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Suns’ sharpshooting enough to hold off determined Raptors

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, left, tries to control the ball against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Phoenix Suns continue to find a winning formula while their starting five’s offense still meshes. On Wednesday in a 123-115 victory over the Toronto Raptors, it was high-level shooting + enough defense.

The Suns made 21 threes, one off the franchise record. That included a stretch in the second half where they started an absurd 12-of-15.

Jae Crowder (21 points) hit six and Cam Johnson (16 points) added four. Phoenix had 30 assists and only 12 turnovers. Cam Payne registered a career-high 10 assists (with one turnover) in only 16 minutes.

“We just felt like if we could touch the paint we could get open shots,” head coach Monty Williams said.

Payne was the perfect player to do that as he continues to prove he’s a legitimate backup point guard.

“He’s got a different gear. He’s got a herki-jerkiness to his game and he’s a willing passer,” Williams said. “The thing about Cam’s passes is that they’re on time and on target. You rarely see him pass the ball high or low. I thought his passes were on point tonight. His ability to get to the paint really helps us in those situations.”

The Suns’ (6-2) defense didn’t reach its stride until the second half and Toronto’s (1-6) offense kept coming throughout the game. While Phoenix’s offense was clunky, there were enough deep ball conversions in the first half to supplant that and be up four at the half of a game it felt like they should be trailing in. The Raptors had 28 fast break points and hit their season average of 16 by halftime.

Phoenix locked in enough defensively for the last 24 minutes to help secure a win.

“They only had 17 assists, so they were playing off the dribble and missing shots,” Williams said. “Defensively, we weren’t bad … you’re talking about a desperate team that’s won a championship. I thought we did enough to win the game. There were stretches where we looked really good and then we gave it back.”

That barrage for the Suns of 12 three-pointers in just over 16 minutes to begin the second half eventually brought on a 15-point advantage in the early fourth quarter.

The Suns’ offense found a rut again, though, not scoring for 4:51 of game time and allowing the Raptors to get within six with 2:11 to go.

Mikal Bridges was fouled to stop that run and Kyle Lowry’s technical foul for Toronto made it a nine-point lead. Even after a strong effort by the Raptors with full-court pressure to make things interesting, they simply didn’t have enough time to complete a comeback and the Suns secured the victory.

The Raptors entered the game in a funk and their star player Pascal Siakam was the most out of order. His season high through six games was 22 points, a total he reached midway through the third quarter. Siakam’s combination of strength, footwork and agility as a slasher is one of the best on the planet.

He had it going Wednesday, to the point where Williams put center Deandre Ayton on him in the second half. Bridges and even Crowder, a very strong guy, were getting overpowered by Siakam. Ayton did his best, playing a strong defensive game overall, but even with his on-ball prowess, he couldn’t stop the All-Star wing who scored a game-high 32. With Siakam’s dominant play given a nod, the Suns did limit him enough in the final quarter to play a part in a Suns win.

“He’s an All-Star and he’s won a title,” Williams said. “The good players have the ability to get to their spots even when you know what they’re going to do, but I thought in the second half it was a lot tougher on him.”

“I thought our aggression to just draw the line and say, ‘If you’re gonna score, you gotta score over length and run through us.’ I thought that was a lot better,” Williams added.

A lot of that was Ayton. He had 16 rebounds in 31 minutes, plus 11 points.

The Suns scored 42 bench points, with Johnson’s 16 and Dario Saric’s 15 accounting for most of that. Booker finished with six assists to go with his 24 points while Chris Paul provided eight assists and 12 points.

The players will admit to what was mentioned at the top, that, overall, they’re still finding themselves right now as a team. The fact that the Suns can be 6-2, still be aware of that and inspire confidence they will keep improving is pretty darn notable.

“We just trying to pile up wins … it’s a very odd season,” Paul said. “Guys didn’t get a chance to play pickup before the season, wasn’t a lot of practices so the games somewhat look a little whatever-ish right now because teams are trying to figure it out and play at the same time but we just want to win. We just want to pile up wins.”


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