EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns maul shorthanded Jazz to take No. 1 position in NBA standings

Apr 30, 2021, 10:29 PM | Updated: 11:42 pm

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton knocks the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) du...

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton knocks the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 30, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns accomplished something significant on Wednesday, guaranteeing a top-six position in the Western Conference and a postseason berth after beating the Los Angeles Clippers.

It was a celebration of sorts from a crowd that was louder than it had been all season. With that, a letdown on Friday against the Utah Jazz wouldn’t have been shocking.

But when Devin Booker was asked after Wednesday’s game what he was thinking about as the buzzer sounded and his playoff debut was locked in, his mind was elsewhere.

“I was honestly thinking about Friday already, playing against Utah for the top of the conference,” Booker said at the time.

That mindset sure did translate.

Booker and his team were extremely locked in, smoking the Jazz 121-100 to indeed lock up the number one position in the NBA standings at the end of play on Friday.

Utah was without its starting backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. That could have led to a bit of the Suns playing down to that remaining Jazz group, a problem Phoenix has had this season.

But this was a mauling.

The Suns in less than 15 minutes of gametime were up 50-25. Booker had 14 of his 31 points in the first quarter.

“I think it’s the team (getting energy) and the crowd as well,” head coach Monty Williams said of what those starts from Booker can do. “When he gets going like that you can feel the energy in the building go to a different level.”

There is a real sense of a homecourt advantage developing at Phoenix Suns Arena for the last two games in particular. Booker said it felt closer to 10,000 fans than the 6,065.

“Obviously, the last two were big games for us and you can feel it,” Booker said. “Starting the season off in empty arenas, it’s a different vibe, it’s a different energy. So to have fans back is definitely more enjoyable to watch I’m sure and while you’re out there too you get a lift.”

Phoenix kept the lead above 15 for the majority of the remaining 2.75 quarters.

Its defense was in the zone. Utah’s offensive firepower is almost nonexistent without those two guards if it isn’t hitting 3s, and the Jazz shot 8-for-26 (30.8%) from 3 in the first three quarters.

Just when you could get a sense that the game was on cruise control for a bit, Booker scored 11 points in just over four minutes to close out the third quarter.

That included the dismantling of Rudy Gobert.

Booker did not play in the fourth quarter and had those 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting in only 29 minutes.

Gobert had a strange night, as he didn’t start the second half and then also got drilled in the face by a pass from his own teammate.

Utah head coach Quin Snyder said Gobert was in the bathroom at halftime and that’s why he had to check in a few minutes into the third quarter.

With the Jazz down 22 and 8:32 left, Snyder called for a timeout and waved the white flag, pulling every key rotation player with a game on deck tomorrow night at home.

Mikal Bridges contributed 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting and was a part of that early onslaught. Chris Paul added 12 points and nine assists while the strong play of Cam Payne off the bench continued with 11 points and six rebounds.

The win gave the Suns a 5-2 record over their last seven games, the most difficult part of the schedule. If anything was going to stop their momentum before the postseason, it was going to be that. And they just keep on chugging.

In true Spider-Man pointing meme fashion, when Williams was asked about that stretch, he said he had already been thinking about how he can help his team translate what worked on Friday into Sunday’s game in Oklahoma City.

Just like Booker on Wednesday.

“What we’ve talked about all year is being a team that’s gotta be consistent if we do what we know we can, so that’s where my mind is,” Williams said. “Taking what we learned from these seven games and continuing it on this road trip and doing everything we can to play the right way, play with a great deal of force, defend the way we’ve been defending and just don’t want to have any kind of slippage at all just because we’re not playing Utah or Brooklyn or the Clippers.

“We want to be able to be the same team no matter who we’re going against.”

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