EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton carry Suns’ offense in win against Pacers

Jan 14, 2022, 9:29 PM | Updated: 10:24 pm
Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker goes to the basket against Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner (33) during the ...

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker goes to the basket against Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Breaking news: It is really good to have really good players on your basketball team.

On a Friday night in Indiana when no one besides Deandre Ayton or Devin Booker had it going for the Phoenix Suns, those two were rolling enough to carry Phoenix through a stuck-in-the-mud three quarters before everyone else stabilized to cruise to a 112-94 win.

Through three quarters, Ayton and Booker were two of the three Suns players to have more than one field goal, and the third (Cam Payne) had just three. Fortunately for Phoenix, Booker scored 22 of his 35 points in the third quarter and Ayton had 21 of his 27 points in the first half.

When Payne got a layup with 3:17 left in the third quarter to put the Suns up two, he became the first Sun not named Deandre or Devin to have at least five points. It was that dire for the offense that just could not knock down clean looks and create enough to find some sort of flow.

The Suns scored 23 points as a team in each of the game’s first two quarters and were lucky to run into a Pacers squad that was even worse offensively, ending the opening half down 46-38.

Phoenix was trying a few unique things defensively that made it tougher on them. From the untrained eye, the main aspect of it involved help defenders being more willing to leave their man to cut off dribble penetration and space for ball-handlers. Indiana is a team that doesn’t have a ton of shooting and playmaking at the moment without a few players due to injuries like Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. McConnell and T.J. Warren.

Head coach Monty Williams saw his team contesting a lot of shots over that stretch and limiting the points in the paint for Indiana’s bigs.

The most telling impact of this was Domantas Sabonis’ scoring contribution, a player that usually crushes the Suns. He had just 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting after being held scoreless through his first shift.

Indiana, though, figured some stuff out in the third quarter and started creating a whole lot more room to operate, resulting in 38 points. If it were not for Booker’s 22 points, the Pacers would have been in control of the game.

“We don’t win this game if he don’t go crazy like that,” Suns point guard Chris Paul said of Booker. “His shotmaking is unreal.”

The final frame is when the Suns emphatically snapped out of it and they’ll love that a 16-2 run to begin the fourth quarter had only one of those points scored by Ayton or Booker.

Paul, as you’d expect, produced 10 points and four assists in the fourth, including an absurd “Shammgod” dribbling combination on Sabonis.

But this wasn’t just your usual Point God heroics.

Eleven straight points in that 16-2 spurt were scored by either Cam Payne or Landry Shamet, the bench backcourt duo that has struggled to shoot efficiently this season.

“It was good to see those guys knock down some shots but playing with a great deal of pace (as well),” Williams said.

“We need those two to play with that type of confidence,” he added.

JaVale McGee made a few key plays in that stretch as well, that shift into an unstoppable final gear we’ve seen the Suns pull out a handful of times this year.

After a rough rebounding performance in the win at Toronto on Tuesday, the Suns responded with a +9 differential on the glass against a large Pacers team. Jae Crowder was one of three Suns in double-figure rebounds with 11, and the pair of Ayton and Jalen Smith each snatched a dozen.

The Pacers shot under 40% and had under 20 points in three of the game’s four quarters. They were a steady and solid team in the Eastern Conference for a few years but have surprisingly now dropped to 15-28, losers in nine of their last 10 games.

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