EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns keep winning formula going through Booker, Paul vs. Jazz

Jan 27, 2022, 12:34 AM | Updated: 12:38 am
Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul, left, and Devin Booker (1) shake hands following their NBA basketball gam...

Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul, left, and Devin Booker (1) shake hands following their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Call it a trusted formula.

However you want to go about it, the Phoenix Suns have patched together a handful of wins in the last couple of weeks while being carried by scorching Devin Booker performances and dominant fourth-quarter play from Chris Paul.

It’s not the way the Suns normally operate, never becoming reliant on their All-Stars, but Wednesday’s 105-97 win over the Utah Jazz can be framed as Phoenix showing one of the many ways it can beat you during an eight-game winning streak.

“It’s a good feeling. But it came with a learning curve,” Booker said of yet another win in clutch time. “I remember when we first got together, it always wasn’t that easy. We had a lot of trial and error. Now I think we’ve been in enough situations where we know what to expect and who we’re playing against on both ends, offensively and defensively. I think that’s the most important part of it.”

In a team-friendly system implemented by Monty Williams that preaches ball movement and gets everyone involved in the offense, Wednesday’s mark of only 14 assists for the Suns was just the second time in Williams’ 192 regular season games with Phoenix that the number was below 17.

That other game? A 25-point loss in January of 2020. My how times have changed.

And yet, with only nine available players against a Utah team that still has a lot of weapons outside of the injured Donovan Mitchell (concussion) and Rudy Gobert (calf), the Suns won through their defense and terrific solo offensive efforts in a hostile road environment.

“It’s just a gutty win,” Williams said. “When you think about coming into Utah after beating them, with nine guys. To be able to play like that with that much energy ”

Booker outscored the Jazz 21-18 in the first quarter for 21 of his 43 points on the night, his latest first-quarter flurry that had Phoenix up 21. The Jazz, though, stormed back and the Suns’ offense got stagnant. A 30-11 Utah edge in the second quarter canceled out the whooping the Suns (38-9) gave out in the opening 12 minutes and it was only a two-point game at halftime.

The third quarter was not the offense finding its flow, nor Booker casting another inferno. While Booker did have 11 of the Suns’ 24 points, the more important number was the 16 Utah (30-19) mustered up. It was not for a lack of effort, as the Suns imposed their will defensively in a way that earned them a lead of 10 points entering the fourth quarter.

“I think our third quarter defense helped us rebound,” Williams said. “To hold a team like that that shoots the ball the way they do with the weapons they have … To hold that group to 16 points, I thought that saved the game for us.”

Booker had exactly half of the Suns’ points with three periods down, 37 of the 74, and was the only player in double figures.

When he rested to start the fourth, that’s when the Point God got to work.

In a messy, frustrating conclusion that saw the referees decide to heavily tighten up the whistle and have both teams in the bonus with eight minutes to go, Paul thrived in the chaos.

He scored eight of the Suns’ nine points in less than three minutes to give a little boost to an offense that desperately needed it.

Phoenix led by six after that, and a Bismack Biyombo steal set up a transition 3 for Cam Johnson to extend it to nine.

After two Utah free throws, Paul got one free toss of his own and a wide-open midrange jumper to make it 92-82 with 5:32 remaining.

Utah wasn’t quite done, going on an 8-0 run the next two minutes before Paul got crafty to create a layup.

After another Jazz bucket, Williams called a timeout and a bad offensive possession was saved by a Mikal Bridges offensive rebound that turned into cash for Booker on a pull-up 2.

Utah answered, only for Paul to once again drain a middy to keep the advantage at four points with just under two minutes to go.

If you now understand the theme of the Jazz getting a bucket on the next trip, congratulations, because it’s over. A brutal sequence of Utah’s Hassan Whiteside getting an offensive and technical foul brought on a Booker make at the foul line and Booker jumper to all but end the game with 1:01 left.

Booker shot 16-of-28, tied a career high of 12 rebounds and played excellent defense. His 16th 40-point game of his career is a new franchise record and it’s safe to assume that record is going to get a lot higher.

Paul amounted to 15 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. His five assists were just the sixth time this season he’s had five or fewer, per Stathead. That’s a testament to his consistency as the league’s current leader in assists per game.

The Suns were without, *takes a deep breath*,  Deandre Ayton (ankle), Jae Crowder (wrist), Frank Kaminsky (knee), JaVale McGee (knee), Abdel Nader (knee), Cam Payne (wrist) and Dario Saric (knee).

That meant all nine dressed Suns played. Williams shouted out the rebounding of Jalen Smith, the defense of Elfrid Payton off the bench and a pair of 3s going down for two-way wing Ish Wainright.

Wainright came into Wednesday 5-of-22 from deep, playing a tough role of never knowing when he’s going to get shots up, even when he is playing. The rookie came out of college without much of a reliable three-point shot but has clearly put some work into it and developed a consistent stroke that has impressed up close after practices and shootarounds.

You can see how much that second one pumped up his bench and Crowder specifically.

“It was huge,” Williams said of Wainright’s shooting. “We want our guys to shoot the ball with confidence. We have a let-it-fly mentality. Why work on your game if you’re not going to go out there on the floor and have the confidence to produce when your number is called? When you have nine guys, you can’t be out there turning down shots … I was happy about him taking the shot but ecstatic about him making the shot.”

Landry Shamet managed only 12 minutes on the evening, took one shot and was scoreless. In his last five games, Shamet’s point totals are zero, three, eight, zero and one. That sums up how it has looked on the court for a guy who is doing his part defensively but still trying to find his footing within the offense.

Penguin Air

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