EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns smash Nets, return home with 16-game winning streak intact

Nov 27, 2021, 9:41 PM | Updated: 9:46 pm
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

(AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

Take the Phoenix Suns’ winning streak out of the equation and these past two days are still their most impressive in a young season thus far.

But with the mark now reaching 16 and the required extra weight it takes to maintain a run of form like that, it’s even more remarkable and going to be tough to beat the rest of the way.

For the second straight night, the Suns mauled their competition on the east coast, handling the Brooklyn Nets 113-107 on Saturday after doing the same to the New York Knicks the game prior.

Quite the way to wrap a four-game road trip and marathon sprint of 15 games in 26 days.

“It is satisfying, man. Just thinking back on the whole road trip, starting in San Antonio and making our way across the states,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “That didn’t stop us. Obviously, we weren’t trying to go .500 on this trip. We’re trying to win every one we can and had some tough opponents back-to-back. Just found a way to get it done.”

With the Nets (14-6) on their own scorching spell of games, 12-2 over its last 14, it was a matchup against the leaders of the Eastern Conference that had a big game feel for the Suns (17-3).

But the energy of that type of showdown was brought by only one team, and it was the one playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road, not the squad that had two days off.

Behind 16 points for Booker in the first quarter and ferocious defense, the Suns jumped all over Brooklyn to lead 34-20. They forced eight Nets turnovers and produced 11 points off them.

“The defense, again, held it down for us,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “You hold a team in the 20s for three quarters, that certainly helped.”

Brooklyn ended the first half with 15 turnovers, and six of those were steals for Bridges, who is having a breakout season defensively.

And I know that sounds silly, but Bridges has gone from one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball to one of the best overall defenders, period. Because of this leap defensively, his knack for impacting games in the little ways he does has transformed into game-changing sequences.

Across 95 seconds in the early second quarter, Bridges scored six points and four of them came off of two of his own steals.

He did all of this while picking up James Harden full court, looking to make one of the greatest guards of this generation earn every bit of his numbers on Saturday. It’s the type of necessary effort we haven’t seen Harden exude all that often this regular season and Bridges’ persistence affected him.

“The ability to play that hard on defense and then give us what he could on offense … We put a lot on he and Jae (Crowder) to guard the toughest offensive guys every night,” Williams said of Bridges. “Mikal was really good on Harden and Harden’s a tough cover for the league.”

Bridges’ 95-second flurry put Phoenix up 19 but once it grew to 20 with 6:40 left in the first half, the Suns went scoreless over 5:57 thanks in large part to the Nets’ switching defensively.

But again, to point right at the talking point of the Suns winning through their defense, Brooklyn only added 15 points to end the half from there, and Chris Paul’s timely five points across the remaining 33 seconds meant it was still a double-digit lead of 10 for the Suns at halftime.

To open the second half, Phoenix adjusted and hunted the ever-living heck out of the Nets’ switches, forcing 36-year-old Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge to check ball-handlers. As you can imagine, that did not go well for him and the Suns’ advantage got healthier to 16.

Brooklyn ended the third quarter down 18 and only Kevin Durant, perhaps the galaxy’s top basketball player at the moment, was really locked in. He, however, had just played the entire third and was at 33 minutes, quickly fluttering toward his season high of 39.

Durant, though, stayed in for all of the fourth quarter and the Nets eventually got it down to within seven at 2:31 to go, and it could have been close if Durant hadn’t missed three shots in a row. Nets guard Patty Mills misfired back-to-back 3s on the next two possessions, and after the second one, a crafty tip shot offensive rebound by Jae Crowder off a Booker shot attempt iced the game with a minute to go.

The Suns survived that 35-23 Nets fourth quarter even though Brooklyn’s switching without Aldridge on the floor gave them fits. That happened a few times across stretches that Williams described as getting “bogged down” and that the Nets “had us in mud.”

They tried to get center Deandre Ayton incorporated but the disconnect between Ayton’s energy levels and when teammates were looking for him continued, an unfinished progression of the offense we saw hurt them last postseason as well.

Durant was magnificent with 39 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, four steals and a block, all while guarding Booker for some of his season-high 45 minutes.

Harden shot 4-of-15 from the floor for 12 points, 13 rebounds, 14 assists and seven turnovers.

Booker (9-of-18) and Paul (9-of-19) each scored in pockets of the game when the Suns needed it. Booker dropped 30 points, his third consecutive game with 30+, while Paul contributed 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Bridges ended up with a career-high seven steals, becoming the third player this season to reach that mark, and also posted 13 points and six rebounds. He played 41 minutes after clocking 39 in Madison Square Garden 24 hours earlier.

JaVale McGee entered the game questionable with right ankle soreness and proceeded to have a tremendous outing of 10 points and 10 rebounds in 16 minutes. It’s his third double-double of the year and McGee has only eclipsed 20 minutes in a game twice, as his productivity accurately represents how terrific he has played this season.

“We don’t win without him tonight for sure,” Williams said of McGee. “We needed his length at the rim, his ability to finish around the basket. He distracted so many shots tonight, it was impressive.”

The significance of winning 16 straight should be further magnified because of how we were talking about that number 15 about a month ago.

That was the lead-up to a stretch of 15 games in 26 days for the Suns, most of it on the road and all four of the back-to-backs featuring matchups away from home. The fact that Phoenix won all of those coming off a short layoff and grueling run to the NBA Finals arguably makes it the No. 1 winning streak in franchise history.

“To play 15 games in 26 days, with travel, with back-to-backs — we have the depth but we also have the professionals on our team that take care of their bodies, give themselves a chance to be at their best and you can’t do it if you don’t have guys who have that kind of experience,” Williams said. “We’ve been winning in different ways all year long and this was another challenge for us.”

The Suns can be safe and assure this streak holds that title by tying the record of 17. In their way? The Golden State Warriors on Tuesday in Phoenix, the owners of the best record in the NBA, right after Phoenix took care of the Eastern Conference’s top dog.

Should be a fun evening of hoops.

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