EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Mikal Bridges goes supernova in OT Phoenix Suns win vs. Spurs

Jan 28, 2023, 9:43 PM

If the Phoenix Suns finish a game ahead of another team in the Western Conference standings, remember their 128-118 overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs and what Mikal Bridges did to make it happen.

In a lull of a game for three-plus quarters, a bonkers fourth quarter broke out Phoenix couldn’t come close to getting a grip on. The Spurs scored on 12 straight possessions to force overtime and were sending this game to uncharted territory for a terrible basketball team when it came to the potential comeback.

At 2:30 remaining in overtime with Phoenix up two, Bridges began the most dominatint stretch by a Sun not named Devin this season.

Bridges ran a pick-and-roll with Deandre Ayton, transitioning into a very difficult baseline fallaway after excellent defense by San Antonio’s Jeremy Sochan.

After a missed Spurs 3, Sochan picked up Chris Paul full court so Paul passed it ahead to Bridges. Bridges didn’t hesitate to run the same play with Ayton on the other side, and this time, the defense wasn’t nearly as good. He got a clean look from the same distance and it was cash.

The Suns were now up six with under two minutes to go and San Antonio’s Keldon Johnson scored on a tough drive.

Paul directed Bridges to run the show again. In another ball screen action, Bridges faked right — toward the direction of Ayton — only to quickly slither back left. On a drive that didn’t look like it had much daylight, he critically stuck with it and embraced contact. Not only did Bridges draw a foul, but his scooping righty finish snuck by for an and-one.

Johnson got another drive to go to make it 121-118 Suns with a minute remaining.  Bridges brought the ball up once more, ran the same play again and tricked San Antonio’s Jakob Poeltl with a euro step and an exposed ball to draw a shooting foul.

Bridges made one of two free throws for a six-point lead and covered Sochan on the other end, who was 0-for-2 in the period after a career-high 30 points in regulation and hadn’t gotten a look in a few minutes.

Sochan foolishly tried to take a pull-up 3-pointer without creating separation and Bridges’ Inspector Gadget arms made an appearance with a ridiculous block.

Paul was quickly fouled after that, made both free throws and Bridges more than wrapped up the proceedings on the Spurs’ next possession by forcing a double dribble off the inbounds pass.

Bridges was cocky through all this, talking the whole time, a nod to his evolution the last two-plus years. His big brothers on this iteration of the Suns have been Devin Booker, Jae Crowder and Chris Paul, three players full of swagger who will spend their fair share of time jawing on the court.

While Bridges has an exuberant personality that he shows with his celebrations, he was never the talking type in his first two NBA seasons. But he has been taking on the personality of the team more through its winning ways and you can really see how much confidence he’s gained because of it. With the growth he’s had on the ball over the last month, that’s a lethal combination.

His line ended up at 25 points and four assists on 10-of-18 shooting.

Paul looked like himself for the fourth straight game. He scored 12 of his 31 points in the third quarter, all on midrange jumpers. The rhythm of the physical effort and motion required for getting to his spots is back. I don’t know where it was, but it’s back. He was 12-of-20 with seven rebounds and 11 assists as well. In the four games since his return, Paul is averaging 22.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 10.8 assists and 2.0 turnovers per game while shooting 55.6%.

Ayton had another eventful evening. The Suns made him the focal point offensively in the first half and his touch was much better. He wound up 11-of-20. But a badly missed hook shot and failed retention of a rebound on the last two possessions of the game nearly cost the Suns at the end of regulation. He scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Phoenix’s bench was much better after a poor performance in Thursday’s loss drew criticism from head coach Monty Williams. Dario Saric was 1-of-8 but grabbed 13 rebounds while Damion and Saben Lee each scored seven points. Bismack Biyombo produced eight points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

Johnson contributed a game-high 34 points for San Antonio.

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