EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns earn 14th straight win through fight against Cavaliers

Nov 24, 2021, 9:06 PM
Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) drives on Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen (31) during the first h...

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) drives on Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen (31) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Phoenix Suns were due for a fight, and they sure got one on Wednesday night.

Riding a 13-game winning streak heading into a matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Suns were using swift execution in crunch time, great defense and some strong all-around efforts in blowouts to achieve that mark.

What they hadn’t quite had, though, was a test for all 48 minutes, where the opposition’s energy, persistence and overall play were there from tipoff to the buzzer. Something to match. That’s what the Cavaliers presented the Suns on Wednesday, and Phoenix powered through it to a 120-115 final for their 14th straight victory, the best of the bunch.

“We’re finding different ways to win games, and I think that serves you well,” head coach Monty Williams said.

“It was a good win for us,” Devin Booker said. “On the road against a team that plays really hard and we have a lot of respect for. We’ve been watching them this year and seeing the fights that they’ve put up with really good teams. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and we had to bring it. And that’s what it was, a dog fight all the way through.”

Despite Cleveland being without Evan Mobley (elbow) and Collin Sexton (meniscus), it came out of the gates far better in the first half. That brought on 10 Suns turnovers and eight Cavaliers offensive rebounds, which produced 12 points off turnovers and 13 second-chance points for Cleveland.

“A lot of it was just transition, paint points,” Williams said. “The communication wasn’t terrible but usually when you’re giving up that many paint points something is being lost in translation.”

Phoenix (15-3) was just a step or two behind on the back foot, and the Cavaliers (9-10) were up 66-61 at halftime because of that, even though Booker was masterfully scoring the ball for 24 points.

The Suns, as you would expect, responded by opening the third quarter with more defensive intensity. That seemed to throw the Cavaliers for a loop, as from 8:20 left in the third quarter to 8:12 remaining, they mustered up only 13 points across 12:08 of gametime.

“Our defense won us the game,” Williams said of that stretch that helped hold Cleveland to only 20 points in the third quarter.

Phoenix went +14 over that spurt, leading by 10 before Cleveland stabilized.

This wasn’t the Suns’ wear-down effect we’ve seen so many times, as the Cavaliers rallied and kept the game tight, mostly through the play of Cedi Osman (23 points) and Darius Garland (19).

But with under two minutes left and the game tied, Chris Paul drained a midrange jumper for the Suns before Mikal Bridges served up a block/save combo platter on an Osman layup.

“Mikal was under duress all night,” Williams said. “He had guys coming at him full speed off the dribble and for him to be able to block the shot [and save it] … That’s one of those situations where our defense generates productivity for us.”

Bridges has upped his game a few ticks on the defensive end, which is saying something considering the overall defender he already was. He was deserving of All-Defense last year, but if his current play continues, it would be borderline criminal if he didn’t make it this season.

“Those are winning plays. Those are championship-type plays,” Booker said.

With a two-point Suns lead, Osman committed a foul that reset the possession out of bounds. That’s where Paul got the ball on the inbounds pass, and with Osman’s foul being the first under two minutes for Cleveland, the Point God knew one more meant free throws.

On cue, he deployed his patented rip-through move on Garland at 1:14 left.

“Just playing the game,” Paul said of getting the foul cal. “It’s still a game.”

Paul’s two free throws put Phoenix up four, but more importantly, put Garland out of the game with his sixth foul. That pretty much did the Cavaliers in, even if they were able to extend the game to free throw mischief, which the Suns solved by fouling up three until they won.

Booker finished with 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting. It was perhaps the most locked in he was bell to bell on his scouring touch this season.

While it wasn’t an all-around great performance by the bench, Cam Johnson’s 14 points and JaVale McGee’s 13 points and 12 rebounds were both two big-time outings. That duo has really stepped it up in the last half-dozen games.

Paul was +23 in his 32 minutes with 17 points and 12 assists, including +10 in the fourth quarter.

Deandre Ayton had 18 points and nine rebounds but it was one of his more disconnected efforts, especially defensively, a disappointing follow-up to his best game of the season on Monday.

Phoenix will look to keep the winning streak alive through this four-game road trip that ends with a back-to-back in New York. The Suns will face the Knicks on Friday and then the Nets the day after.

If they keep it alive, they’ll return home to attempt to tie the franchise record of 17 against the only team in the NBA with a better record than them, the Golden State Warriors.

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