Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton will Suns to OT victory vs. Blazers
Dec 15, 2021, 12:11 AM | Updated: 9:52 am
We hear all the time from the Phoenix Suns how competitive of a group they are, and Tuesday’s 111-107 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers was perhaps the top victory so far this season that represents that.
“This is big for us,” point guard Chris Paul said. “After that loss last night in LA, being down a lot of guys, we’re a no-excuse team. We came in here and said, ‘We don’t want to lose two in a row.'”
Paul played 41 minutes on the second game of a road back-to-back and was the best player on the floor with 24 points, eight rebounds, 14 assists and three steals.
After Deandre Ayton missed two games due to the flu and lost 10 pounds because of the illness, he logged a career-high 45 minutes and season-high 28 points, plus 13 rebounds.
Both of them were even more spectacular than that line of wording represents. And while they carried the squad, it was still a full team effort with only 10 available players that can only come from a team with a pedigree for high-end energy.
“I told the guys, it was just a lot of character and integrity to be able to play on a back-to-back with that kind of energy against a team that was sitting there waiting for us,” head coach Monty Williams said.
Paul was at that Point God level all night when it came to his expert craftsmanship in dissecting Portland’s ball screen defense. He found the right pockets of space to locate Ayton, who had nine of his 12 field goals assisted by Paul.
And it was not just a successful formula because of Paul doing the heavy lifting. Ayton’s elite touch and rhythm in getting to his spots were there, continuing to show encouraging signs of progress in short rolls when the defense chooses to give Ayton different openings.
whew short roll floater for DA pic.twitter.com/O1nbWJka8P
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) December 15, 2021
“We went all the way to the Finals. I’ve seen every coverage possible they could possibly thrown at us,” Ayton said. “Now it’s just me being a better basketball player, taking what the defense gives me.”
Those two controlled the game through 2.5 quarters but Portland’s offense woke up in the third, ending it on a 30-14 run in the last nine minutes to lead by two.
That’s when two of the best point guards and closers on the planet got to work.
At a 78-78 tie score with 10:17 to go, Paul and Portland’s Damian Lillard proceeded to score or assist the game’s next 28 points, bringing us to a 93-91 Portland lead at 3:04 remaining.
To this point, the Suns (22-5) had not been getting enough from the supporting cast outside of Paul and Ayton. The value in the missing Devin Booker (left hamstring strain) really shined through in this one more than any of his other five missed games, because the Suns still need a bit more even if their two best players are thriving.
Then Cam Payne hit a three assisted by Cam Johnson and a Lillard 3 was answered with a Paul setup for Ayton.
Three points for Portland were followed by a Payne layin, and after a Lillard miss, Paul hit a middy to tie the game at 100 with 40 seconds left.
The Blazers (11-17) then managed to go only 2-of-4 from the line on their next two possessions, failing to capitalize on a Paul miss that was a rushed 2-for-1 attempt he admitted after the game he hated.
Once Blazers guard Norman Powell hit his second free throw with 22 seconds remaining, we had a flashback to 2020.
Back on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul spent Game 6 of a 2020 first-round playoff matchup with the Houston Rockets successfully hunting wing Robert Covington on switches over and over again en route to 15 fourth-quarter points that forced the series to a Game 7.
Back on Tuesday night, Paul brought the ball up and had Payne come over to set a screen that would get Covington switched on him.
We all knew what was coming next: midrange cash.
CP3 FORCES OT pic.twitter.com/0R1egZKgHI
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) December 15, 2021
“Been in that situation so many times that (I) better make it,” Paul said in only the way he can.
Lillard had no heroics in him across eight seconds to work with, so we got overtime, and that’s where one exhausted team just executed more than the other exhausted one.
A Johnson three-pointer put Phoenix up three with three minutes to go, and a smooth find of Ayton by Payne on the next Suns possession countered a Portland bucket.
From there, it was sluggish offense against relentless defense. That’s another flashback, this time to Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals for Phoenix in Los Angeles versus the Clippers, that grueling 84-80 final score.
Neither team in Portland could materialize any more points until the Suns fouled with a three-point lead and 12 ticks left on the clock.
Lillard only made one free throw, Payne knocked down both of his and that was that.
Johnson and Payne closed the game over Mikal Bridges, the Suns’ leader in minutes and the one player that Williams often rushes back into the game too early because they need him.
Bridges’ aggression scoring and shooting the ball hasn’t quite been up to par since he dislocated his right pinky finger. And while it doesn’t appear to be impacting his shooting form, he has been fumbling the ball a bit with whatever contraption he’s had on.
But Bridges is a key element of the matchup because of the way he defends Lillard. Crowder and Paul, however, did a good job on Lillard.
Williams said they liked having Johnson out there as a shotmaker and Payne as an option off the dribble in case the Blazers blitzed Paul. He also noted that 34 minutes for Bridges defending Lillard might as well be 50 with the way Lillard has to be chased around.
Johnson is in the best form of his NBA career. He scored 12 points, the seventh straight game in which he’s reached double figures. He had previously never gotten a streak past three games.
Payne’s still coming into form after being a fantastic backup point guard last year. He entered the night shooting 38.1% and the Suns cannot make it deep in the playoffs if he’s not back to the way he played last season. It has quickly been forgotten how terrific he was in sections of the run, from the Lakers series when Paul’s shoulder was in poor shape to the game of Payne’s life in Game 2 of the WCF against the Clippers when Paul was out with COVID-19.
Payne was shaky for a few quarters on Tuesday but really put it together in those last 17 minutes, ending the night with 17 points.
Lillard was lethal for that fourth quarter but didn’t have enough gas in the tank for overtime, understandably so after playing 47 minutes. He had 31 points and 10 assists.