EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Chris Paul leads Suns to peak execution in record-setting win

Feb 20, 2021, 10:55 PM
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant in the first hal...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Having Chris Paul on your team can make wins like Friday’s surprising fourth-quarter explosion for the Phoenix Suns possible.

It can also make cakewalks like Saturday’s 128-97 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies possible.

With Paul finding his elite form the past few weeks, there’s a certain level of play the Suns are going to get almost every single night. With the talent Phoenix has around Paul, following the point guard’s lead will yield great results.

On Saturday, that meant not letting a shorthanded Grizzlies team even come close to sniffing a chance at winning.

Head coach Monty Williams commended his team’s focus in taking care of business.

“Those are the kinds of games where you can lose your rhythm,” he said. “When they have so many guys out, you can mess with the game, and we didn’t do that tonight.

“I came into a timeout and was just grateful for the way we were playing in the fourth quarter because that’s a time where you can go into the game goofing around, taking bad shots, I gotta call timeout to get us back to where we need to be and we didn’t have to do that tonight.”

Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins met with his staff on Friday night after a win over the Detroit Pistons and tried to navigate any necessary precautionary measures in his rotation. That’s because the Grizzlies on Saturday against Phoenix were playing their fourth game in five nights and the fifth game in seven nights.

With Memphis already dealing with some injuries and COVID-19-related absences before that, it had to sit a few players versus Phoenix to be safe. That was guard Grayson Allen, forward Kyle Anderson and big man Brandon Clarke. With the Grizzlies already missing starters Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr., that left their rotation decimated.

Not a good idea with the Point God in town.

It really never gets old watching Paul seize control of a game. He got rolling in the first quarter offensively and it was established from there.

Paul made all five of his shots in the first half for 13 points. As a whole, he had just 16 points and six assists, a testament to his excellence that he can do that with a stat line that suggests anything but pinpoint manipulation of the opposition.

The Suns held a double-digit lead 10 minutes in that stayed above 15 for a majority of the second quarter, and it only got worse from there.

The Suns played good defense against bad Grizzlies offense. Memphis got some half-decent looks, but never got any to fall. Like the Suns’ breeze of a win against the Orlando Magic earlier in February, it looked like the Grizzlies weren’t fully all there because of how many guys they were missing.

The Grizzlies missed 16 straight three-pointers to open the game.

By the time they made attempt No. 17, the Suns were up 25 with 41.4 seconds left in the first half.

Phoenix cruised the whole way. The Grizzlies didn’t have enough fight left after the Suns whopped ’em from the jump. A 31-point Suns halftime advantage was only cut down to as low as 26 in the second half.

This game wouldn’t have been heavily contested whatever way the shooting trended, but it didn’t help that the Suns also made a franchise-record 24 three-pointers.

In such an open game, a few players were able to get a rhythm scoring. Devin Booker had a game-high 23 while 19 points were contributed by Mikal Bridges, Cam Payne and Dario Saric.

Memphis finished 5-of-33 (15.2%) from three-point range. The Suns had 35 assists to only nine turnovers.

Viewers of the Suns this season are often going to be reminded of Paul’s greatness. Beyond his impact in the last two wins, there’s also the fact that on Saturday he passed Oscar freaking Robertson on the all-time assists leaderboard, moving to sixth.

Everyone on the Suns does not take it for granted.

“To me, we won a big game, but I’m just blown away that I get to be a part of that with him,” Williams said of Paul’s accomplishment. “When you think about the name Oscar Robertson, it’s unreal that Chris plays the way he plays … I just think that’s amazing and a blessing, and I just feel so honored and humbled to be a part of this team when he did it.”

Booker made sure to get the game ball for Paul so the team could present it to him after, a ball Paul was still holding onto while speaking with the media.

“It’s kinda hard to put it into words, being a fan of the game for so long and being a fan of his for so long — now getting to grace the court with him is unbelievable,” Booker said.

“It means everything, for real,” he added on giving Paul the ball. “Just being a part of history, man — that’s Chris Paul right there. I say it every day. I call him by his first and last name because that’s how I grew up saying it.”

Booker said “it’s no mistake” that Paul is as outstanding of a basketball player as he is because he’s now seen Paul’s day-to-day work in the past couple of months.

That special mentality Paul has was reflected when he was asked if he’s trying to catch Magic Johnson — No. 5 — next on the leaderboard this season.

“I’m trying to pile up wins,” Paul said with a smirk.

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