EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns’ win against depleted Pacers overshadowed by injuries for Phoenix

Jan 22, 2022, 11:30 PM
Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to an injury during the second half of the NBA game agai...
Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to an injury during the second half of the NBA game against the Indiana Pacers at Footprint Center on January 22, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Pacers 113-103. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It helped that Saturday night was a run-of-the-mill 113-103 win for the Phoenix Suns against a shorthanded Indiana Pacers squad but it was hard to think much about anything at all in the second half except the statuses of starting forward Jae Crowder and backup point guard Cam Payne.

Both exited the game with wrist injuries. Payne played through his for a bit in the first half but Crowder took a fall in the third quarter after a finish in transition and immediately jogged to the locker room.

“I was mad because it was similar plays, you know what I mean,” Chris Paul said, who was seen showing frustration after Crowder left the floor. “To see Cam go down in the first half, and then see Jae go down, yeah it’s tough, man. We have a tight-knit group over here and we know how hard guys work. It’s just always tough to see that.”

The Suns (36-9) have gone through their fair share of absences up and down the rotation this year, including some of the long-term variety for Frank Kaminsky, Abdel Nader and Dario Saric. But anything serious for Crowder or Payne would be the biggest blow to the Suns yet this season.

Head coach Monty Williams didn’t have an update on either postgame.

The league’s trade deadline is two-and-a-half weeks away, and if either injury is major, that would surely shift Phoenix’s thinking on how they would go about it. The Suns are a deep team that can make up for injuries but the mindset changes when you’re arguably the favorites for a title.

The worry could be a waste if both injuries turn out to be minor, nothing more than a few weeks. It’s also what is racing through the heads of fans and members of the organization alike until the results of more testing come in on Sunday.

The Pacers (17-30) on Saturday were without Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner due to injury, aka their likely starting lineup if everyone was healthy. Key reserve T.J. McConnell is also in health and safety protocols.

That’s quite the decimated roster, one that also just beat Golden State earlier this week, so the Suns knew it was a group that could catch them off-guard if they weren’t ready.

While the Pacers never really threatened, they kept managing to hang around in the first half, and that was mostly due to how the Suns played.

“We just didn’t play 48 minutes of good basketball or good habits,” Williams said, noting Indiana played good defense but he saw his guys offensively not making the right play as consistently as they normally do.

The problem for the Pacers was they deployed an aggressive defense that Paul was tearing to shreds. The plan worked to a certain degree, as the Suns only took two three-pointers in the first quarter and didn’t knock one down until the early second quarter.

But Paul was cooking early, and that’s trouble.

He made his first seven shots and his 16 assists on the night were nearly half of the Suns’ 34. Indiana was intentionally putting guys a step or two further toward the action, a scheme Paul ate alive.

To no surprise, this meant the supplementary pieces of Phoenix’s offense feasted.

Mikal Bridges scored 23 points and Bismack Biyombo had his best game as a Sun so far with a season-high 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Paul added 18 points, four rebounds and four steals to those 16 assists. JaVale McGee contributed 13 points starting in place of Deandre Ayton, who missed his third straight game due to a sprained right ankle.

Phoenix used a 33-20 third quarter to get its lead in a more controllable state, and even though the Pacers got their deficit down to six in the fourth quarter, they didn’t offer enough of a legitimate push to really make it a game for the Suns.

Devin Booker was 5-of-23 from the field for 11 points. It was the 175th game of Booker’s career in which he has attempted at least 20 shots, and his 21.7 FG% is the worst of all those outings, per Stathead.

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