EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Chris Paul provides ‘jumpstart’ to Suns in bounce-back win over Lakers

Oct 22, 2021, 10:59 PM

PHOENIX — Nothing like a little get right game, and that’s what the Phoenix Suns got on Friday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

After a first quarter that slightly resembled the Suns’ mixed effort on opening night in a loss to the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix smoked the Lakers for a 115-105 final.

There wasn’t much pep in the Suns’ step offensively again to start the game, but leave it to Chris Paul to provide the shock to the system that revives the flow.

Paul didn’t take a shot in the first quarter and then scored 11 points in the second, adding five assists in each quarter for a double-double at halftime. With the Suns down three entering the second quarter, Paul scored or assisted 19 of the Suns’ next 21 points over 5:55.

“He just knows when to, you know?” head coach Monty Williams said of Paul. “It’s a skill. He just figures out like, ‘This is this way, this guy is playing me this way, they’re blitzing, they’re dropping’ and then he just goes into a period in the game where it’s just him. It can be passing or he can just go into his midrange game and take over a little bit.

“But the intention is to always win. It can be three shots, and you’re just like, ‘That changed the game. He just knew when to do it.'”

That jolt, or as Devin Booker described it, a “jumpstart,” put Phoenix up six and seemed to wake up Paul’s team. The intensity combined with cohesive team play was there again on both ends.

Booker snapped out of an early five-quarter funk to open the season, scoring six points in the rest of the period and Mikal Bridges added five, the cherry on top of Bridges’ outstanding two-way first half.

Suddenly the Suns were leading by 13 at the half, with 18 assists on 21 made field goals.

Perhaps the most important part of the first half was the Suns’ defense looking better in the first quarter, so when Paul ignited the offense, they were ready to put their foot on the gas.

“I thought our defensive intensity was really good tonight … I thought overall defensively, that was about as high a level of intensity that you can play with and for three quarters, we’re all over the place,” Williams said.

Near the end of that half, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard got in a slight scuffle on Los Angeles’ bench. Whatever energy the Lakers had remaining seemingly left the building from there.

A 34-18 second quarter from the Suns was followed by a 37-23 third, as Los Angeles came back onto the court in the second half even flatter than they were in the quarter prior. A 27-point lead entering the final 12 minutes all but sealed it, a nice bonus for the Suns to get some extra rest on the first game of a road back-to-back.

That was, until the Lakers decided they weren’t done with the game. They went small with Davis at the 5, threw a couple new things at the Suns and made it a 10-point game. It never really got in danger, though, and even though Williams played most of his starters the majority of the fourth quarter, the high men in minutes were Bridges and Jae Crowder with 35.

Paul finished with 23 points, five rebounds, 14 assists and two steals on 6-of-12 shooting. Bridges was 8-of-11 with 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block to stuff the stat sheet while Booker added 22 points, five rebounds and four assists.

The Suns ended up with 31 assists and only 12 turnovers, getting right back on track as the league’s best assist-to-turnover ratio team last season. Williams liked the “paint-to-great” play of the dribble penetration and the overall pace of the offense.

Davis’ touch was off all night. He shot 6-of-18 for 22 points. LeBron James had a game-high 25 points.

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