Suns find their motor, catch Grizzlies slipping in shorthanded win
The Memphis Grizzlies got trapped into thinking a shorthanded Phoenix Suns team would just roll over on Tuesday. To be fair, that’s more or less what happened four days prior.
But the Suns squad we’ve truly come to know the last two years that was up on milk cartons for the month of December reemerged with a tremendous effort to a 125-108 win.
Memphis actually got out to an 8-0 start, which felt like a sign of things to come, but that lulled it to sleep and the Suns held the Grizzlies to just 14 more points for the remaining 9:43 of the first quarter. Phoenix’s defense, which entered the night ranked 24th in defensive rating since Nov. 8, had its urgency, communication and sound team shape all night.
When that happens with that energy carrying over to the offense, the Suns’ system will reward the team no matter who is on the floor.
Despite missing Devin Booker (left groin strain), Cam Johnson (meniscus tear), Cam Payne (right foot strain) and Landry Shamet (right Achilles soreness), the Suns at a 40-35 scoreline in the mid-second quarter ended the first half on a 25-14 run. That margin does not come close to accurately portraying the Suns playing their best basketball of the month by far over that stretch.
It was exactly what head coach Monty Williams had called out after that blowout defeat to Memphis on Friday, saying he felt like the Suns were the prey and they needed to get back to chasing something. We saw a good chunk of that response in Denver on Christmas as well but a rough go in the clutch and overtime led to a loss.
Phoenix made up for it on Tuesday.
Torrey Craig and Josh Okogie, in particular, were the two guys that were just absolutely everywhere. Every 50/50 ball was either snatched by them or saw at least one of them in the vicinity. This ludicrous defensive possession during that aforementioned spurt paints the picture.
Peak annoying defense from the Suns pic.twitter.com/H5PW9M2vEE
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) December 28, 2022
The Suns led by 16 at the half, and even after Grizzlies star Ja Morant woke up in the third quarter to score 22 of his 34 points, Phoenix closed it on a 13-4 surge to be ahead 17 heading into the final frame.
Some of that was Duane Washington Jr., who put up a career-high 26 points.
Every team needs a heat-check scorer, the type of player who can get white hot at the flip of a switch. You can see the embers starting to burn in real time, and once Washington hit a pull-up 3 early in a second-quarter sequence, you knew it was going to be one of those nights for the two-way guard. He knocked down five 3s and added eight assists, as he continues to show some real feel for ball screen actions and the first few reads off the dribble.
No one showed up for Memphis to be Morant’s No. 2. He and Desmond Bane (14 points) were the only players in double figures while the Suns had eight. That included all five starters, Washington, Okogie and Damion Lee. Williams surprisingly started Jock Landale in place of Booker to give the Suns more size on the glass and in the paint, two areas they were destroyed in on Friday. That gamble paid off.
A great shooting night of 17-for-31 (54.8%) from 3 was the basketball gods giving Phoenix what it deserved for its effort.
Chris Paul hit four of those before he exited in the mid-third quarter, around his usual sub-out time slot, with an apparent left leg injury. Earlier in the period, Paul got his leg tangled up with Memphis’ Dillon Brooks and took a handful of moments to collect himself. He limped around a bit and fiddled with his lower left leg before more or less looking like himself in the last few minutes of his shift.
He did not play in the fourth quarter, but it was also a huge Suns lead, so it was a situation where he wouldn’t have anyway. Keep an eye on the injury report coming in Wednesday afternoon ahead of the second game of a road back-to-back versus the Washington Wizards.