EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns find their form, make it 7 wins in a row with beatdown of Grizzlies

Nov 12, 2021, 9:14 PM
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, calls to his team in the second half of an NBA basketball g...

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, calls to his team in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

(AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

PHOENIX — It’s a ruthless efficiency the Phoenix Suns play with when they’re rolling. No other group will outwork them, all while they are precise in their execution on both ends.

It makes them a really, really great team. We hadn’t seen that team this season, however, up until Friday’s 119-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

The seventh straight win for Phoenix was a beatdown, the clicking into place at full speed type of outing we had been waiting on.

The starting backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker was buzzing with a ferocious mindset from the jump. They were both getting in the lane and downhill offensively in the first quarter against the NBA’s worst defense statistically to start the year. That recipe brewed up some trouble for Memphis in a hurry, a 13-point Phoenix lead through the opening 12 minutes.

Everyone on the Suns (8-3) was moving defensively and covering for each other. Outside of Ja Morant’s nearly unguardable two-man game, the Grizzlies (6-6) had little to no success in the first half, being held to 23 and 20 points in the first two quarters, respectively. A 21-point third quarter made it three straight complete defensive efforts for Phoenix, a level of focus head coach Monty Williams saw in shootaround.

“I thought the intensity was at a really good place … I just thought we had good carryover from this morning and it’s a good way to start the trip,” he said.

Williams showed clips at halftime to his team of what was going well in the Suns’ shift defense, a look where they will make multiple efforts to congest driving lanes and then recover to shooters. Those are the types of signature team defense possessions we saw last year in scrambling situations, and they are popping up more frequently in the last few games.

“Our defense is gonna get better and better the more we play like that,” Williams said.

“I think our defense [was] very, very, very good tonight,” forward Jae Crowder said, a guy who is not one to exaggerate when assessing defense. “It was no question that we were able to get out to a big lead from our defense.”

In the second quarter, Paul came back in and punished a defense he has in the past that lets him get to his spot. He was 4-for-4 from the field, with all four shots coming from nearly an identical spot.

“They were sort of playing in a drop so it let me get to my spots, just trying to come out aggressive,” Paul said.

The 3-ball was falling for the Suns too, at an 8-of-17 clip in the first half.

All of those factors were even more pronounced in the third quarter, where the Suns’ 19-point advantage ballooned as high as 38, effectively killing off the game. That’s an added bonus for a team that plays three games in four days on a tough travel schedule going from Phoenix to Memphis, Houston and then Minnesota.

That wasn’t quite the outcome, as once the lead hit 38, the Suns had five turnovers in the last 3:33 of the quarter. That sloppiness carried over to the beginning section of the fourth quarter, where Williams wasn’t going to mess around and still had Paul and Mikal Bridges in even though it was a 28-point game. Considering how the team nearly fumbled away a huge fourth quarter in Sacramento earlier in the week when the starters came in midway through the quarter, that made sense.

The Grizzlies got it down to 23 points with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. still on the floor but Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins thought better of chasing a comeback with a matchup in New Orleans the following night. He checked out his young duo with 8:17 left, and there was enough stability for the Suns at 5:21 remaining up 24 for Williams to get his key players back on the bench.

Paul recorded 15 points, four rebounds, 12 assists and five steals while Booker added 17 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Bridges (3-of-3) and Crowder (5-for-8) had it going from deep, contributing to a season-best 18-for-37 (48.6%) shooting performance for the Suns at three-point range. That’s an expected development for Crowder in particular, as he was shooting just 30.2% from distance through 10 games. Throughout his career, Crowder has always been consistently streaky, meaning he’s going to get hot eventually if he’s been cold for too long, and vice versa.

All 10 Suns players who played more than five minutes scored at least eight points, with some nice bounce-back efforts off the bench for Cam Johnson (12 points) and Abdel Nader (10) included in that. No one reached 30 minutes.

Deandre Ayton (right foot contusion) missed his fourth straight game, but was listed as doubtful on the injury report, a notable upgrade from his “out” designation that indicates he’s making legitimate progress toward returning.

Morant was great with 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals but Jackson’s 19 points made the pair the only Grizzlies to reach double figures.

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