EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns end road trip with more high-level offense in win vs. Pelicans

Jan 4, 2022, 10:07 PM
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball between New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball between New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) and New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The Suns won 123-110. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

It looked like a three-game road trip across the country could get a little precarious for the Phoenix Suns but they corrected their course in a hurry.

While still dealing with a handful of players out, the Suns continued their offensive flurry from Sunday’s win in another strong performance on that end Tuesday for a 123-110 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

After a rocky four-game stretch in which an excellent basketball team looked nothing like themselves, the offense has been humming.

Phoenix dished out 32 assists in New Orleans and hit 17 three-pointers, improving to 21-1 when it reaches over 25 assists and 19-1 when it hits at least 12 trey balls.

That’s the way head coach Monty Williams wants his guys to play and got a first-hand look at it for the first time in five games after being out due to a bout with COVID-19. Phoenix, meanwhile, is still without Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, Abdel Nader and JaVale McGee in health and safety protocols and added Landry Shamet to that list Tuesday afternoon.

The Suns on Tuesday managed to keep pushing back a frisky Pelicans squad. Per Tom Leander of the Suns’ television broadcast, there were three different stretches in the game where Phoenix went up at least 15 points, only for the Pelicans to get back within four, six and two points.

That last two-point margin came with 6:21 to go. The offense slightly destabilized before the Point God took back the reigns to get it home.

Chris Paul ran essentially the same action with center Bismack Biyombo the rest of the way, a two-man game New Orleans had no hopes of stopping. Biyombo, a 10-year NBA vet the Suns signed on Saturday, has just about perfect timing and feel for his spots.

“He knows what he’s doing in his box,” Williams said of Biyombo. “A lot of times that helps you when you haven’t played for a while. You just have a box of two or three things you have to do well on both ends of the floor.”

Paul relished that, setting up Biyombo on back-to-back trips before the rim pressure the big man presented allowed him to kick out to a wide-open Devin Booker from 3. Booker then found space off a designed midrange set the next time down and then an and-one dunk for Biyombo from Paul suddenly had the Suns up 11 with three minutes to go and effectively called curtains on the game.

“I thought every time they made a run we were able to respond,” head coach Monty Williams said. “And two, at the end of a road trip with everything our team has been through — players in and out, coaches in and out — we’ve just played steady basketball and got two good wins on the road.”

Booker and Paul both had their top-level rhythm of dissecting the defense, an impossible task for defenses to face. Booker scored a game-high 33 points on 12-of-24 shooting while Paul had a game-high 15 assists.

Williams said Paul had “that look” toward the coach throughout the game when the duo is managing the playbook.

“He just had a really good rhythm finding guys,” Williams said of Paul.

Biyombo had his second straight outstanding evening. He hadn’t played in a game since last season, a testament to how prepared he stayed and the veteran savvy he possesses.

“He just fits our culture, man. Biz know how to play,” Paul said. “Whatever you need — screen, rebounding. Biz just came from the crib. He’s a consummate pro.”

Booker said Biyombo has been an active voice already, talking guys through what he’s seeing between whistles and reacting accordingly. Given how much the team misses Ayton’s and Crowder’s communication, that’s a big-time addition.

Biyombo finished with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks. Williams went with him in crunch time over second-year big Jalen Smith, and Smith had been playing well. Biyombo was just the better matchup for the Pelicans’ large Jonas Valanciunas and started rolling with Paul in pick-and-roll around the time Smith would have checked back in.

Cam Johnson ended up with 18 points, his 17th straight game in double figures, and was a mind-boggling +35 across 35 minutes in a 13-point game. He’s averaging 16.6 points per game in his five starts while Crowder remains out.

Mikal Bridges’ season-high 23 points were a byproduct of the Suns’ offense cooking. When the ball is moving like it has in the last two games, he benefits more than just about anyone else.

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