EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns find a bit of flow, jump all over Cavaliers for home win

Oct 30, 2021, 11:02 PM | Updated: Oct 31, 2021, 12:14 pm

PHOENIX — Ball and player movement. Chris Paul thriving in pick-and-roll. Multiple efforts defensively. Devin Booker’s unguardable midrange jumpers.

It’s not an instant fix for the Phoenix Suns after a 1-3 start but Saturday’s 101-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3) replenished some of the good faith this team has more than earned after a sensational season last year.

The opening quarter-and-a-half looked like more of what we had seen through four games, uninspired flow offensively and far too many open shots allowed defensively. The Suns didn’t hit a three-pointer until the 7:36 mark of the second quarter.

But after Phoenix started to generate some stops at a 42-28 deficit, some via good defense and others coming from bad Cavs turnovers and misses, that seemed to awaken the Suns from their slumber.

As Cleveland continued to spiral in the second quarter, Phoenix was at least solid enough to be up four at halftime.

Following a few games where the opening of the second half had proven to be problematic and undoubtedly had been addressed to the team, the Suns throttled the Cavaliers with a 24-6 run through nearly eight minutes of the third quarter.

All added up, it was a 50-12 run that had Phoenix up 24.

At one point across most of the second quarter and a piece of the third, the Cavaliers had produced more turnovers (6) than points (4) for 8:38 of game time.

Once the Suns’ defense started to get its juice back, Cleveland didn’t know how to react to those passing lanes suddenly being gone and kept turning it over. They had 18 through three quarters.

“Pressuring them, making it tough, not letting the ball-handler be so comfortable off the pick-and-roll, making them make tough decisions,” Suns wing Cam Johnson said of what the defense was doing to make that happen. “Being in the passing lanes, active hands, creating some turnovers and those turnovers led to some runouts and points.”

The Cavaliers had 18 points in the paint in the first quarter but only ended up with 40, a stat Suns head coach Monty Williams credited to the play of Deandre Ayton dominating the interior at a certain point in the game.

That onslaught conveniently had Paul, Booker and Ayton prominently involved.

Paul found his step in ball screen actions, and so did Ayton with hard rolls to the rim. Booker got one tough middy to fall in the third quarter, and from there, it was clinical for the birthday man turning 25 years old on Saturday.

Again, some rhythm for a few guys brought on possessions that looked familiar and produced a slight amount of electricity for a team that regularly jolted us with fantastic basketball sequences last season.

“I think they called a timeout after that and we went right to the bench and said, ‘That’s how we play,'” Booker said of that play above. “Make quick movements and the ball pops around and it’s tough to guard when you’re playing like that.”

Phoenix didn’t score for the last 4:14 of the third quarter, an 11-0 Cavaliers run, which let Cleveland at least have a shot down 13. The team on the second game of a back-to-back, though, didn’t have the gusto to pull that off, getting as close as 12 with two minutes to go before some free throw shenanigans got the final score closer than it should have been.

The Suns were +5 on the glass, a huge win given Cleveland’s size advantage and a showcase for how great Phoenix can gang rebound.

Booker finished with 27 points and nine assists, giving him 58 points in his last two games as a nod that he’s doing just fine, for any who were concerned he wasn’t.

Paul contributed 16 points and 10 assists while Ayton added 17 points and 12 rebounds, posting a game-high +30.

Williams said Paul pulled Ayton and backup center JaVale McGee together to watch film on their own as a trio to go over angles and such on screens.

“I think we both understand, and especially me, I definitely understand that I can’t do anything without him,” Paul said of Ayton.

Ayton checked out of the game in the mid-third quarter in his usual slot but was ruled out for the rest of the game due to a right leg contusion.

The center later clarified to the Associated Press’ David Brandt that he had a knee-to-knee hit on the right side of his leg and that he was feeling OK.

Williams said the Suns probably ran more pick-and-rolls on Saturday than the last two games combined, an effort to further simplify the offense and keep the ball in Paul’s and Booker’s hands at the start of a possession.

Second-year big Jalen Smith got his first run in the rotation, and while it was a mixed bag, the energy he brought in the second quarter was important. He had four points and five rebounds in nine minutes.

“He came in there, got a few offensive rebounds and was in the right spot on the rolls when they were blitzing [Chris] and made a couple of plays,” Booker said of Smith. “That’s called being ready for your moment.”

It was not the perfect win to get everything fully back into gear. The Suns only scored 101 points and the three-point numbers of 26 attempts and only six makes need to get better fast. Williams backed that up by saying “we still haven’t found our shot rhythm yet.”

It’s going to be a process, but winning will certainly accelerate it.

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