EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns get right after loss, smash Spurs by 38

Dec 4, 2022, 4:19 PM | Updated: 4:30 pm
San Antonio Spurs' Alize Johnson (19) and Isaiah Roby, center, grab for the rebound against Phoenix...

San Antonio Spurs' Alize Johnson (19) and Isaiah Roby, center, grab for the rebound against Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

After a surprising loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday, the Phoenix Suns took full advantage of the way the schedule fell with a get-right game on Sunday against the reeling San Antonio Spurs, crushing them 133-95.

San Antonio has now lost 16 of its last 17 games, and we all know how these Suns typically respond to a loss.

The Sunday afternoon start on the road predictably led to a somewhat sleepy opening. But after Phoenix led 21-20 late in the first quarter, it closed the first half on a 50-21 run to be up by 30 points at halftime.

Phoenix in that quarter got great contributions off its bench from the likes of Landy Shamet (10 points) and Jock Landale (12) but the star was Josh Okogie.

The fifth-year wing has had a rough go shooting the ball to begin the year, entering Sunday at 1-of-14 from 3-point range, but Okogie is such a high-level defender that all he needs to do is make the right decisions on drives to have a positive impact in the regular season.

His nine turnovers and six assists haven’t helped that case. Okogie is prone to traveling on dribble attacks after either hesitating to shoot the ball or make a move with it and can get caught in bad spots around the rim. But on Sunday, his decision-making was there and he was outstanding as a whole.

Okogie played all 12 minutes of the second quarter, ending it with two points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal and zero turnovers. His +25 accounted for the full 36-11 avalanche the Suns drowned the Spurs in.

Once the starters trickled back into the game, Mikal Bridges scored 12 of his 20 points and Deandre Ayton added 11 of his 25. All of them benefitted from Devin Booker’s playmaking, a part of Booker’s game that is hitting a new level right now in the midst of this nuclear stretch for the reigning Western Conference Player of the Month.

Booker is seeing double teams often, from blitzes to soft traps to even a third defender waiting around the key if he gets by that. Beating that comes down to diagnosing where the defense is, deciphering where the open man is and then making the pass from there. Most of these passes are difficult and take years of seasoning to nail the specificities of.

Against bad teams like the Spurs, the breakdown can be one pass away.

Booker wound up at eight assists to go with 20 points, ending his streak of 40-point games at three.

After the Suns extended their lead in the third quarter to as many as 44, the Spurs wouldn’t get within 25.

Ayton finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, a nice bounce back for him.

Bridges and Booker both played under 30 minutes as well for just the second time this season. With the Dallas Mavericks up next in a road back-to-back on Monday and the 18-5 Boston Celtics coming to Phoenix on Wednesday, it is excellent timing.

Torrey Craig (right groin strain) was out for the second straight game, joining Jae Crowder (not with team), Cam Johnson (right meniscus tear) and Chris Paul (right heel soreness) on the inactive list. Dario Saric got the starting nod again in place of Craig.

Saric got up to 17 points and knocked down four of the Suns’ 19 3-pointers. They also had a season-high 37 assists.

Okogie’s final line was nine points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and one turnover in 26 minutes.

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