EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Phoenix Suns work through grueling performance to beat Warriors
The Phoenix Suns make it look pretty so much they make us forget how, oftentimes, it is not pretty. Even in wins.
Wednesday night was a reminder of that, the final regular season meeting with the Golden State Warriors, a grueling 107-103 road win. What matched the franchise record for wins in a regular season at 62 with six games left could have easily been a loss.
“I told our guys we win pretty, we can win ugly, the bottom line is that we win,” head coach Monty Williams said.
Devin Booker has arguably been playing the best basketball of his NBA career for the last two-plus months but he came back down to Earth in a big way on Wednesday, shooting 5-of-21 (23.8%) from the field. Prior to Wednesday, Booker had shot at least 50% in 10 of his 14 games since the intermission and the lowest his shooting percentage got in those other four outings was 41.7%.
The tornado of bad basketball that was this game seemed to sweep Booker right into it over three-and-a-half quarters of play that brought little resolution. To be fair, the environment and physicality were akin to a playoff game, but the quality of play was not.
A great shooting night for the Warriors through three quarters of 12-for-28 from 3 (42.9%) helped make up for their 17 turnovers to that point, while Phoenix’s 6-for-25 mark from distance (24%) didn’t allow it to pull away.
The Suns led by one once the clock hit five minutes remaining, and that’s the point of the game we’ve become trained to expect the Suns to flip a switch and close things out.
That, however, did not happen as imminently as it normally does.
The score was still tied with two minutes left, and after a Chris Paul jumper, Booker would proceed to foul a Warrior to put them on the free-throw line three separate times across 40 seconds.
Two free throws for the Suns’ Jae Crowder allowed the game to only be a one-point deficit for Phoenix with 40 seconds left, and then Booker was fouled off the ball to get some of those free tosses back.
He sank both, and three seconds later after a Warriors timeout to draw up a play, Draymond Green traveled three seconds into the possession.
From there, Paul did what he does, finding a driving lane and keeping his defender in jail to sink a floater to put the Suns up by three with 13 seconds to go.
CLUTCH GOD!!! pic.twitter.com/boSWsbnJGx
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 31, 2022
That was when Williams employed the usual free-throw shenanigans he does with a three-point edge, trusting Booker and Paul to nail theirs while fouling the Warriors so they cannot hit a 3 to tie.
After one sequence of this that added two points to each side, Booker made his best play of the night, acting like he was about to foul Golden State’s Jordan Poole at half-court. It looked like Booker was going in to foul, only for him to fake Poole out. So when Poole inexplicably started shooting to try and get three free throws, Booker pulled away in enough time to make Poole look like the biggest fool of the evening.
Jordan Poole takes a half court shot with 5 seconds left in a 3 point game. pic.twitter.com/y9XXA4vv4X
— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) March 31, 2022
It was a more than fitting end to a night of basketball we sure won’t be talking about as a reference point — other than maybe a developing beef between Green and Crowder — if these squads happen to match up again in the playoffs.
“Those types of games where I think there’s a lot of missed layups, a lot of fouls today, a lot of missed open shots and still finding a way to come out with a win on the road is always important,” Booker said.
That late halfcourt chuck was an unfair slight to Poole before stating the fact that he was the best player on the floor. He tied his career-high of 38 points while adding nine rebounds and seven assists.
Poole’s explosion plus the 3-point shooting was enough offense for the Warriors (48-29) to hang around even without Stephen Curry (left foot strain) but they proceeded to shoot 1-of-10 from deep in the final frame.
Mikal Bridges had 22 points while Deandre Ayton made up for a poor shooting night to his standards (7-for-17) by grabbing 16 rebounds, and he still wound up with 16 points.
Phoenix (62-14) made up for rough efficiency, a field goal percentage of 41.3%, by getting the Warrior turnover total up to 21 while also producing points at the foul line. The Suns took 30 free throws and made 24 of ’em, just the eighth time this year they’ve reached 30 attempts. Booker was 10-for-12 there on his own.
“One of the things we talked about at halftime was attacking the paint,” Williams said while also crediting the Suns for getting to more 50-50 balls. “They had some small lineups out there and we were leaving money on the table or meat on the bone, if you will. I thought we made a big-time effort to not just get to the basket but try to finish and draw contact. We didn’t shy away from it.”
The Suns have now won nine straight games, approaching their third double-digit winning streak of the season.