Suns reserves outwork Spurs, grind to final regular season win
Was Sunday’s 123-121 win for the Phoenix Suns one of their best of the season?
Maybe! Not in quality, perse, but the way the Suns played their brand of basketball without several key players to beat the San Antonio Spurs showed what the special sauce has been to the team’s 51-win season.
The Suns had 36 assists and only eight turnovers while shooting 51.0%, sharing the ball as a group all game through head coach Monty Williams’ 0.5 system. Achieving that with Cam Payne being the only point guard in the rotation is pretty amazing, regardless of how invested the Spurs were in the game.
And it was clear which side was.
“That’s who we are,” Williams said. “That’s our DNA. No matter who steps on the floor for us, we compete and I thought that was the overwhelming component for us tonight. Everybody we put on the floor, they played as hard as they could.”
Chris Paul and Devin Booker got some rest and Jae Crowder managed his right ankle while Deandre Ayton (left knee soreness), Cam Johnson (right wrist sprain) and Abdel Nader (knee surgery) remained out. Mikal Bridges only played five minutes, maintaining his run of not missing a game since high school.
The Spurs got at least 20 minutes for all their top healthy guys after sitting out a handful of important players in the Suns’ win over them on Saturday.
That group including the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and others made a huge 38-25 push in the second quarter to put the Suns down nine at the half.
In a moment where the game started to snowball, the Suns stopped that sucker on its way tumbling down the hill and fought like hell to push it back up. They had their own 37-24 third quarter to make it a four-point game entering the fourth and were going to make the Spurs really work for it.
That’s where veteran combo guard E’Twaun Moore showed why he will continue to have a spot in the league. Moore made six of his seven shots in the final 12 minutes, scoring 16 of his 22 points.
That included the go-ahead bucket with under three seconds left, a pull-up 3.
It was one of the least surprising performances of the year, as Moore in the past has talked about “stay ready so you don’t gotta get ready,” one of his mottos. In his past couple of seasons, Moore has held this type of inconsistent role on a team, not playing for a while but always performing when he’s called upon.
When the game was there for the taking, that’s when Phoenix’s energy rose, both with its players on the court and those on the bench. A good chunk of those seven players out were up for nearly every play made in the last 18 minutes.
“It’s a sign of unity, togetherness that we’re going to need, especially in the playoffs,” Moore said.
Everyone heavily contributed that played. Bridges was the only Sun to play and not hit double figures, and he had seven points in his lone five minutes.
Jevon Carter was one assist shy of a triple-double, registering 19 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Cam Payne added 19 points while Frank Kaminsky, Torrey Craig and Jalen Smith each had 11. Kaminsky also provided 10 rebounds and seven assists while Smith’s 10 rebounds made it his first career double-double in his first career start.
Langston Galloway’s 10 points had him as the eighth Suns player to hit that mark.
The win in the Suns’ last game of the season gave them a chance still at the top spot in the standings, with a Utah Jazz loss Sunday night making Phoenix the No. 1 seed.
When Paul was traded to Phoenix in November, his former coach Williams and teammate turned Suns assistant Willie Green told him about the group he was getting with.
“Coming here being new to the organization, one of the things Mont and Willie said to me all the time was, ‘C, we got a work team,'” Paul said in March.
Paul got to Phoenix, saw his two coaches were serious about it and now that process has been coming to fruition win after win.