EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns stay level, find right run to coast by New York Knicks

Nov 20, 2022, 4:56 PM
Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo, right, blocks a shot by New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickle...

Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo, right, blocks a shot by New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Phoenix, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns didn’t do much to lose Sunday’s 116-95 win over the New York Knicks, and sometimes, that’s enough.

Phoenix (10-6) started the game up 21-11 against a Knicks (8-9) team that was unorganized and lacking much gusto defensively. For the next two quarters, though, neither team located much consistency and the Knicks managed to be down only two at halftime.

The first team to put together a real run was going to be in control of the proceedings, and it was a pair of Devin Booker assists plus a 3 that manufactured an 8-0 run across 65 seconds in the mid-third quarter to have the Suns lead by 11.

Later on in the quarter, Booker and reserve guard Duane Washington Jr., two products of Grand Rapids, Michigan, knocked down back-to-back triples to extend it to 17. Phoenix shot 11-of-21 (52.4%) from 3-point range in the second half and outscored the Knicks 35-22 in the third quarter.

“Just getting out, getting in transition, playing our type of basketball,” Booker said of what clicked in those 12 minutes.

The Suns didn’t look back, and the Knicks didn’t do much to pressure them, a squad that looked all sorts of blah on a Sunday afternoon tip-off time of 1:30 p.m. that inspires that quality of basketball more often than traditional starts.

The contest was the third straight in which Phoenix has had all five of its starters in double figures. That’s a great sign of its elite team play from the past two years still being in strong shape, as the Suns were without Chris Paul (right heel soreness), Cam Johnson (meniscus tear) and Landry Shamet (concussion protocol).

It’s also a nod to guys like Torrey Craig (14 points), Mikal Bridges (13) and Cam Payne (21) growing some consistency in the scoring department. Even if it’s just a dozen here and a dozen there, if everyone is doing it, that’s enough to supplant being without a primary option like Paul.

Craig has tied a career-long streak of four games with at least 10 points. Letting him crash the offensive glass more has helped. Craig off the ball streaks across open space around the free-throw line with lots of consistency, and he’s developed a feel for where to get good opportunities attacking the rim from there.

Speaking of offensive rebounding, the Suns capitalized off something they assuredly picked up while scouting the Knicks in sending even more bodies in on shot attempts. Someone like Booker rarely goes in but he was mixing it up just as much as the bigger wings typically do. Eight Suns players had an offensive rebound for 21 total, leading to 19 second-chance points.

Ayton grabbed four of his 11 rebounds there. He was back to the level of aggression he needs to have at all times after a discouraging run of form the last two weeks. Ayton using his dribble in more proactive ways brought on a season-best five free throw attempts to go along with 13 points and four assists.

Booker ended up with 20 points in only 29 minutes. Without Paul and Johnson in the last five games, Booker had been averaging 38.4 minutes per game. And Bridges, who closed with 33 on Sunday, was even higher at 39.5. Head coach Monty Williams said pregame he was mindful of Booker’s number specifically. And that number doesn’t even fairly represent how much of the offensive load he’s taking on currently.

Payne’s team-high 21 points and nine assists continued his tremendous play this season.

“I feel like just being out there longer, you get to see the full game of how I play,” Payne said. “You see the full game instead of just a snippet. Like 12 minutes. So being out there on the floor definitely has been helping me, playing through mistakes.”

He and Craig playing more like they did two years ago as opposed to last year is making a world of difference.

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