EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns endure physicality, rough stretches to beat Raptors in Toronto

Jan 11, 2022, 10:04 PM
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) battle for the ball ...

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) battle for the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

It certainly won’t be one of the proudest wins of the Phoenix Suns’ 2021-22 campaign but their ability to still get one on Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors will have them feeling good.

Phoenix struggled through several patches of the game, was mauled on the offensive glass and still managed to come out of a physical battle with a 99-95 win.

“That’s one of them games you gotta put your hardhat on,” point guard Chris Paul said.

An odd game matched an odd setting. Toronto won’t have fans through January, a move from the Scotiabank Arena in response to the latest spike in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant.

This is nothing new for the Suns because of the 2020 bubble and opening stretch of last year but the adjustment back to it led to a strange environment.

“It was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever [been] in,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “It was different than the bubble … It was quiet, cold — it was just weird. We just had to figure out a way to win.”

There were multiple patches of the game that were just bizarre and brought hardly any separation.

Nine minutes in, the Suns had only 12 shot attempts. Some of that was due to the Raptors’ hot shooting, leading to just three rebounds for the Suns, and also six Phoenix turnovers.

Toronto went from 14-of-25 in the first quarter to 7-of-22 in the next 12 minutes. That had it sacrifice an 11-point lead, the largest of the night, and left the Suns down only two at halftime after a rough first half.

The Raptors’ multiple schemes defensively and length on the other end bothered the Suns all game.

“I don’t think we’ve played against a team that distracted or blocked as many jump shots as they blocked tonight,” Williams said. “They’re pretty long. They cover ground quickly and they’re just pretty sound. There’s not many young guys on the floor and they’re physical.

The third quarter was more of the same staggering lack of rhythm for either side, including bunches of turnovers. Then to open in the fourth quarter, the Raptors started rebounding everything.

Toronto grabbed nine of their first 10 missed shots from the field across the quarter’s first six and a half minutes. With the Suns down four wings and Toronto missing some names as well, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse elected to go to some supersized lineups and sent at least three of his players to the offensive glass.

Phoenix had no answer even though it was well aware of the problem and trying to do something about it.

“Some of them were self-inflicted but some of them, we were fighting,” Paul said. “We was trying. To give up that many offensive rebounds and still win the game, we’ll take it.”

Toronto had 10 of its 22 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Those who saw the game will be flabbergasted to hear it was only a 16-11 edge in second-chance points for the Raptors.

So, this ultimately didn’t give Toronto much of an edge despite the flow of the game telling you it was keeping the Suns on life support.

After that barrage of rebounding, Toronto was only up one. The Suns were in the middle of what would be an 8-0 run to lead by six and finally seize control of a game that kept seeming to slip out of everyone’s hands while they tripped over one another.

Suns guard Devin Booker didn’t have his best shooting night but was busting his tail on the defensive end and also hit shots when Phoenix needed them most. After Booker failed to convert on three straight good looks and turned it over once, Toronto went on a 6-0 run to have a one-point advantage with 90 seconds to go.

With a little over a minute to go, Booker drilled an on-the-move midrange jumper via a nice screen from Deandre Ayton on a baseline out of bounds play.

Ayton played excellent defense the next time down and had the Suns in a spot to drop the hammer.

That is where Paul did what he does best, sinking a midrange jumper to put Phoenix up three at 33 seconds remaining. That was followed by the Suns’ best defensive possession of the game to lock in free throw shenanigans and the Suns won from there.

Ayton had an inconsistent night. In the first half he couldn’t get a hold of three passes that brought on Suns turnovers and he wasn’t making himself felt anywhere. Ayton had only one rebound in the first half before a much better second half, providing what Williams called a “tremendous response.”

Ayton ended up with 16 points and nine rebounds.

All five Suns starters were in double figures and none of them broke 20 points. Booker was 4-of-13 for 16 points while Paul had 15 points, 12 assists and five steals.

Phoenix had 20 turnovers, and it was a team effort. The starters each had at least two and all 10 players contributed at least one. The Suns managed only 99 points shooting 47.4% as a team because of those turnovers and also losing the possession battle on the glass.

That speaks to how good of a defensive effort it was for Phoenix.

“When you have that many turnovers and you give up that many extra possessions, you better do something well,” Williams said of the Suns winning the game through their defense. “I thought our half-court defense was sound. We just couldn’t come up with the ball.”

Toronto entered the night having won six in a row with its big three of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby all rolling. Those three guys had their shotmaking down again on Tuesday and each scored over 20 points but none of them ultimately could translate it into taking over the fourth quarter and winning the game.

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