EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns continue to find success through Ayton, Bridges in win vs. Pistons

Feb 4, 2023, 8:18 PM

The Phoenix Suns continue to put together wins in the last three weeks, a huge surprise considering they are still playing without Devin Booker (left groin strain) and Cam Payne (right foot sprain).

It appears the Suns have had enough time to adjust to life without two of their three lead ball-handlers and they are doing so rather well. A 116-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday marked eight in their last 10 contests, pushing them all the way into a top-six playoff spot in the standings.

The biggest successful tweak has been the offense finding a rhythm while focusing on getting Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges shots.

Head coach Monty Williams joked before the start of the Phoenix’s five-game road trip that even himself, a guy who stays away from Suns-related stuff online, had heard the chatter about getting Ayton, Bridges and Cam Johnson the ball more all the way from the deck of his property in Texas. Through the squad’s run of injuries this season, it became more of a priority, and it’s working.

At halftime, Ayton and Bridges combined to take 15 of Phoenix’s 32 shots, with a handful of trips to the foul line sprinkled on.

Even with this new wrinkle and huge change, it was a rather clinical Suns win because of how the two of them performed in elevated roles.

Ayton produced game-highs in points (31) and rebounds (16) on 13-of-15 shooting. His two-man game with Chris Paul carved up a real bad Pistons (14-40) team all evening and Ayton’s energy was once again a positive for the second straight night.

Bridges scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He entered the year with 34 career outings of 20-plus points in 309 games and he now has 21 of ’em 55 contests into this season. He has reached 20 points in 10 of his last 12 appearances.

His rise in the last month as a self-creator has been defined by his confidence turning him into a difficult shot-maker. Because of the spots Bridges was utilized in previously, most of his shots would came on sets that had him gliding around off the ball and stepping into shots with rhythm.

Now he’s using the wiggle with his handle at full speed to pull up. Bridges is legitimately creating separation and being efficient with the shots he takes off it, the most valuable (and toughest) attribute (to develop) in the modern NBA.

He’s always had touch but to use it like this on tough looks is a serious leap in his ability that was hard to see coming.

So was how much more he’s not only embracing contact but learning how to bait it effectively for foul calls.

Johnson returned to the starting lineup after sitting out Friday’s win to continue right knee injury management. He looked great, with 20 points on nine shots in 23 minutes. Torrey Craig added 14 points, and while Chris Paul shot 0-of-7, he dished out 14 assists.

The limit on Ish Wainright’s two-way contract is coming up shortly after the trade deadline and he has been making a strong case for a legitimate roster spot, again.

After he had a similar case last season and got the nod, Wainright has been even better in a bigger role this year. With Williams looking for more energy and on-ball defense on that end of the court, Wainright has provided it. He has closed out the game with the starters back-to-back nights, registering five points, four rebounds, an assist and two steals in 21 minutes on Saturday.

If Phoenix still has an open roster spot after the deadline, Wainright should get it. If the Suns don’t have one, they should create room for him.

Detroit was led by Saddiq Bey (25 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic (23).

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