EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns relocate pep in step by eliminating Lakers for franchise-record 63rd win
PHOENIX — When you’re in a rut and need to snap out of it, we all have that reliable go-to. A phone call, workout, meal, destination, whatever.
For the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, it was facing a reeling Los Angeles Lakers squad they would eliminate from playoff contention with a 121-110 win.
Phoenix (63-16) had already done its own clinching two weeks prior, and losses we’d label as “bad” if there were any actual stakes for the Suns followed soon after in Memphis and Oklahoma City.
It was nothing to worry about. It was also something the Suns would be helping themselves out with if they were playing some semblance of their brand of basketball in the last five games of the regular season.
Both defeats were opportunities to secure the franchise record of 63 wins but that didn’t do the trick, unlike the opportunity to end a rival’s season for the second straight year.
But before we get there, 63 wins is a big deal. The Suns have a saying that they celebrate everything and they did just that for the ball club’s new top mark.
“When we came here, the goal was obviously to build a program and step by step do some things,” head coach Monty Williams said. “It started with the young guys that we had that first year, the bubble last year and then the individual stuff that we’ve seen guys achieve along the way and then tonight is unbelievably special for so many people.
“Not just the organization, but the people in the city that have basically birthed the Suns. Everywhere I go people talk about the Suns are their baby and to have us playing this way, achieving this goal tonight is huge for the Valley.”
“I keep telling you that’s how life go,” center Deandre Ayton added on going from losing 63 games as a rookie to winning 63 now. “What goes around, comes around. That’s how it is. And that was Phoenix’s turn to come around.”
To go back to the Lakers (31-48), there was a lot of spice to come out of last year’s playoff series. And even more developed this season when Anthony Davis insinuated less than two hours before the Lakers’ 29-point loss to the Suns on March 13 that the only reason Phoenix won that series is because he got hurt.
Phoenix played on Tuesday night in front of their home crowd with slightly more oomph to its celebrations, along with the usual trash talk they’ll engage in with anyone. The Suns said before the game the Lakers’ fate didn’t matter to them but their swagger on the court indicated otherwise.
Knowing this Suns team, it was honestly what we have come to expect. Cite this most recent example alongside Cam Johnson’s pissed-off career night against the New York Knicks and Devin Booker’s seemingly season-long disrespected campaign tour.
The Lakers, who entered the night 7-23 in their last 30 games, actually managed some competent play in the first half without LeBron James (ankle). Phoenix was down two with 4:36 left in the first half before it ripped off a 15-8 run to go into halftime with a five-point lead.
It was a sign that the Suns had located their juice, an energy source they promptly put to use in the first six minutes of the second half for a 21-7 surge to lead by 19.
After a Booker layin with nine seconds remaining in the third quarter and a quick Lakers inbound pass, he sprinted back on defense behind the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook to poke the ball loose. In seven years of watching him play in the NBA, I’ve never seen him do that. It was as if Booker knew he was going to sit for the rest of the evening and wanted to get every last bit of meat left on the bone.
It was a unique way to watch a game, knowing one team’s season is about to end as the byproduct of the opposition pouncing on them unfolds.
Booker wound up with 32 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 12-of-22 shooting in 30 minutes. Deandre Ayton added 22 points and 13 rebounds.
The Suns had 38 assists on 50 made field goals
Davis was clearly playing through an injury he shouldn’t have been. His limited mobility hurt the Lakers defensively and on the glass but you can’t blame the guy for wanting to be out there when everything is decided. He amounted to 21 points and 13 rebounds in 36 minutes.
Westbrook has gone through a rough season but played well on Tuesday, producing 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting.
All of the hoopla with the Lakers overshadowed what was a monumental occasion for the Suns, win No. 63.
The organization has a rich history and Phoenix celebrated it by honoring that right away.
The locker room gave head equipment manager Jay Gaspar the game ball, a member of the staff who has been with the Suns for 34 years.
34 years of service to this organization.
Tonight’s game ball is dedicated to Equipment Operations Manager Jay Gaspar. 💜 pic.twitter.com/LQh5UV26U9
— * – Phoenix Suns (@Suns) April 6, 2022
“All this stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” point guard Chris Paul said. “Book been here through some tough seasons. Some 19-win seasons, stuff like that. The [person] I’m probably happiest (the) most for is him. And Jay. Jay been here for 34 years, man, and one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet in your life. And for him to really see it all and for him to be here with us is pretty dope.”
Booker after the game went over to Al McCoy, took off his jersey, signed it and gave it to the Suns’ radio broadcaster since 1972.
A special moment here as Devin Booker hands a signed jersey to Al McCoy after the #Suns set a franchise record for wins in a season! #ValleyProud
Full video: https://t.co/diepUsfijh pic.twitter.com/tSQEun24VU
— 98.7 Arizona Sports (@AZSports) April 6, 2022
It was class shown all the way around by the Suns, but just like with how they had some extra mojo against the Lakers, it was not at all surprising.