EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Chris Paul, Devin Booker lead Suns past shorthanded Jazz

Jan 24, 2022, 11:18 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2022, 12:52 pm

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns do not want to get into the habit of needing heroics from Devin Booker and Chris Paul to win them basketball games. They especially do not want it to happen in matchups like Monday’s when the Utah Jazz are down six of their seven leaders in minutes played.

As they say, though, it was what it was and it still got the Suns a win.

The Jazz’s bottom-half of the roster played with terrific energy and confidence throughout the night, and it required the Suns to chase down the game in the fourth quarter to win 115-109.

Utah had a combination of some new injuries and a few nagging issues they decided to sit guys with.

Donovan Mitchell (concussion) and Rudy Gobert (calf) were already out and could miss more time. Mike Conley (right knee injury maintenance), Bojan Bogdanovic (left finger avulsion fracture), Joe Ingles (right ankle sprain) and Royce O’Neale (right knee tendonitis) were all downgraded or new additions to the injury report after each playing at least 29 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors.

For Conley and O’Neale, those are both knees they’ve already missed some time for this year, while Ingles appeared to pick up the ankle issue in San Francisco. Bogdanovic, Ingles and O’Neale were all listed as questionable pregame.

To be fair, the Suns (37-9) were missing Deandre Ayton (ankle), Jae Crowder (wrist) and Cam Payne (wrist) as well, along with the long-term guys out like Frank Kaminsky (knee), Abdel Nader (knee) and Dario Saric (knee). But they still had four of their top six players, including their two All-Stars, and the Jazz had only Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson from their primary core.

Booker scored all 33 of his points in the first three quarters to keep the offense completely out of mud, where 13 turnovers for 16 Jazz points were the extra push Utah got to be within one possession for most of the game.

It was not like the Suns participated in this game without any juice, but once it was clear the Jazz (30-18) were not going away, they couldn’t grasp a firm handle on it like they are so good at doing.

“We always call them trap games or a letdown. I didn’t feel like that was the case,” head coach Monty Williams said. “I thought we played hard. We just didn’t execute defensively.”

Utah had a great level of shotmaking throughout from names like Trent Forrest, Jared Butler and Danuel House Jr.

Given Clarkson was the one prominent Jazz player featured, Utah was the best bet to be carried by a solo scoring performance. Instead, that proved to be the Suns, as the Jazz ended the night with seven players in double figures and Clarkson as the high man with 22.

Once the Jazz had an 8-0 spurt in the late second quarter to get back within two points, the Suns’ lead would only get as high as five before the Jazz took it away from them to go up two entering the final frame.

That’s where Paul did the Point God thing, recording 15 of his 27 points and three of his 14 assists in the fourth quarter. Cam Johnson had 11 of his 20 points to provide that extra bit of scoring that wasn’t there for the Suns most of the night, and the Suns turned it over only once across those 12 minutes.

At a 91-86 deficit less than 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Suns went on a 15-4 run over less than four minutes in which Paul assisted or scored 13 of those points. That put Phoenix up six and even Clarkson hitting a trio of 3s late in the quarter didn’t get the Jazz close enough to make it a one-possession game again.

Phoenix is rarely one to run the have one guy dribble while 2-3 other guys aren’t moving offense, as they want everyone involved and moving, but that’s what they went to through Paul and Booker most of the second half.

Williams saw the Suns’ 28 assists as a bit misleading, saying that a fair amount of those were probably from possessions with one pass and a shot as opposed to the fluid ball movement we’ve come to expect from his squad.

An example of this is someone like Booker averaging just 4.4 assists per game this year, a statistic that does not come close to adequately portraying how much he sets up his teammates off hockey assists and keeps the offense flowing.

Both guys have had to play bigger minutes with Payne’s injury and Landry Shamet’s continued struggles. Paul hit 40 minutes for the second straight game and it was the third consecutive outing Booker reached 38.

“I feel good,” Paul said of the high minutes. “I’m cool. I’ll hoop again tomorrow if you want to.”

Booker quipped in immediately after that with a “vegan,” a bit of banter targeted at Paul’s diet that he’s had since 2019.

Booker shot 14-of-35, with the 35 attempts marking the second-highest number of his career, per Stathead. The top number, of course, is the 21-of-40 for 70 points in 2017. He was very much playing like a guy who wanted to get over a 5-for-23 showing in Saturday’s win against the Indiana Pacers and had 29 of those shots in the opening three quarters.

Booker’s shot quality was there with the high volume and his point total easily could have reached the 40s had a few gone down that normally do.

“I just got it going early and tried to stick with it,” Booker said. “And late, they weren’t falling. I liked a lot of the looks I got, I think three wide-open corner 3s that I missed short.”

Paul had seven turnovers, quite the uncharacteristic development. That was only the 10th time in his career out of 1,136 games he’s done that, according to Stathead. Do not expect to see it again anytime soon.

Speaking of uncharacteristic developments, third option Bismack Biyombo continued his scoring tear with 16 points, plus 13 rebounds. That’s the fourth game in nine appearances that Biyombo has reached 15 points since being signed earlier in the month. He only hit that scoring mark four times in his last two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets.

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Chris Paul, Devin Booker lead Suns past shorthanded Jazz