EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns use balanced scoring attack to win franchise-record 18th straight

Dec 2, 2021, 11:07 PM | Updated: Dec 3, 2021, 11:31 am

PHOENIX — Making up for the absence of a star player is a tall task for many teams, and sometimes impossible.

Not to say that it isn’t a challenge for the Phoenix Suns, but with a deep and talented roster that plays together, it’s certainly less difficult when Devin Booker injures his hamstring.

“That’s how our team is, man,” Chris Paul said. “Every night, it’s somebody else stepping up and we expect that.”

Case and point with Thursday’s 114-103 win over the Detroit Pistons, the 18th straight, a new franchise record.

Phoenix managed those 114 points without anyone reaching 20 points. Seven Suns were in double figures, including at least 17 points from Deandre Ayton (17), Mikal Bridges (18), Cam Johnson (19) and Cam Payne (19).

JaVale McGee’s 10 points meant it was 48 for the Suns’ bench, all from just three players.

“If you’re gonna have a guy like Book out, there has to be something that offsets it to a degree, and I thought it was the bench production tonight,” Williams said.

Detroit entered the game with the worst record in the league at 4-18, and it looked like some Suns games from a few years ago where a young team was thoroughly outexecuted by a far more experienced squad that knows who they are.

Phoenix kept the game in the palm of its hand off that, locking in enough defensively and taking advantage of poor team defense on the other end to be up 18 at halftime.

The Pistons, however, showed some fight and did not accept their fate. Midway through the third quarter, a few shots started to go down and it gave them confidence that fueled a 17-0 run in less than four minutes to tie the score. We suddenly had a game on our hands.

The Suns quickly snatched back control to lead by 6-10 points from the end of the third quarter until the game’s conclusion.

With a six-point Phoenix edge and 3:25 left, it scored on four of its next five possessions, with all four buckets coming from a different player. It was a 10-3 spurt in just over two minutes to serve as our closing ceremonies, that gear switch into overdrive we’ve seen a lot this year that overwhelms anyone who stands in its path.

With Abdel Nader (right knee) and Frank Kaminsky (stress reaction) out too, Elfrid Payton played 10 minutes and two-way wing Ish Wainright got his first run in the rotation for four minutes in the first half. Payton was his usual mixed bag while Wainright did well, getting in the right spots defensively and making a nice pass to Johnson in transition.

“I thought Ish came in tonight and gave us good minutes,” Williams said. “Had a really good assist, and defensively, he’s sound.”

“His energy, that energy is contagious, man,” Paul said of Wainright. “Not knowing if you’re gonna play or not and you come in there and you going that hard, that’s big and that’s what pros do.”

The Suns shot 54.4% from the field, an efficiency that helped out generating only 21 three-point attempts and 23 assists. Despite his proficient work in the art of getting buckets, that’s where Booker is nearly missed just as much. Paul had over half of those assists (12) and added 12 points.

Paul played the whole fourth quarter, something certainly not by design with a game in Golden State the next night, but he ended at 33 minutes, a fine number. The management was there for Jae Crowder at just 24 minutes, while Bridges is just going to have to be the guy patching up sectors of the rotation without Booker, as he logged 41 minutes. The weekend prior, he played 39 and 41 minutes for the back-to-back in New York.

“I wanted to get him out and not play him as much but it got hairy in the third. I trusted him. I think there’s, at some point I got to address that,” Williams said, noting he’s aware of it and that they are managing Bridges’ off-days accordingly.

Detroit massively struggled to stay in front of Payne, who benefitted tremendously from it to find a consistent rhythm. Bridges (8-of-14) and Johnson (7-of-11) both logged double-digit shot attempts and were precise with ’em. Those two were obvious candidates to aid the offense’s mission to fill in Booker’s 18.7 shots per game.

Landry Shamet got the start in place of Booker, something Williams said could change game to game, as Johnson provides another great option. Shamet continued his run of being solid, going 5-of-11 from the floor with four 3s for 14 points and was a game-high +12.

The Suns had 58 points in the paint, 36 off triples and 16 at the foul line, meaning that produced 110 of their 114 points. That’s a sign of the offense cooking and a great one considering how much Booker and Paul usually manufacture in the midrange.

Detroit’s Jerami Grant scored a game-high 34 points and No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham contributed 19.

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