EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Bol Bol provides spark off bench for Suns in win over Blazers

Jan 1, 2024, 10:54 PM | Updated: Jan 2, 2024, 8:11 am

Head coach Frank Vogel of the Phoenix Suns shakes hands with Bol Bol #11 during the first half agai...

Head coach Frank Vogel of the Phoenix Suns shakes hands with Bol Bol #11 during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center on January 01, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are 3-for-3 halfway through a six-game homestand after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 109-88.

The injury list at tip-off defined a good chunk of what this game was about.

Kevin Durant was out for right hamstring soreness, something he tweaked in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win and played through the rest of that game. Durant’s minute totals playing every other day in the last four contests were 43, 41, 39 and 39, lending to a thought of this being a rest night on the second night of a back-to-back.

Head coach Frank Vogel, however, rejected that notion pregame, saying the Suns do not do rest days and this is an injury. Vogel called it a day-to-day status and was hopeful Durant would be available for Wednesday’s home game hosting the Los Angeles Clippers, which is when Phoenix’s schedule kicks into overdrive across a challenging January.

The Blazers were without Deandre Ayton (right knee tendinitis), Toumani Camara (right knee soreness), Duop Reath (low back strain), Anfernee Simons (illness) and Robert Williams III (right knee ligament tears). That is Portland’s best guard (Simons), second-best wing (Camara) and top three centers.

Despite this, it led 29-20 through one quarter after the Suns weren’t knocking down quality looks and got somewhat lackadaisical defensively. Bradley Beal and Devin Booker started slow, presenting the question of if Durant’s absence would be this noticeable, to affect Phoenix’s chances of defeating a depleted, bad team.

But holy smokes, the momentum of the game shifted thanks to a Beal plus reserves lineup featuring Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie, Chimezie Metu and Bol Bol.

Yep. No typos there. It was a 35-18 second quarter to take back control of the game.

“I want to credit our bench. … Credit those guys for staying ready,” Vogel said of the win. “We had some games over the course of this year when our bench got outplayed by the other team’s bench. Our bench tonight gets the game ball.”

Bol, a player the crowd is enamored with whenever he is in the game (and chants for to check in during blowouts), made a real impact! He was +15 in eight first-half minutes with five points, four rebounds and an assist.

“Felt pretty good,” Bol told Arizona Sports. “Had a lot of energy, the crowd was loud out there and most importantly we got a win.”

The former projected lottery pick going into his lone season at Oregon was picked in the second round four years ago and was a one-year flyer by the Suns to get his immense ability in their own system to see if they could unearth a difference-maker, something two previous teams were unsuccessful at.

The 7-foot-3, 220-pound player doesn’t really have a position. Ideally, he’s a big. But he’s got ball-handling and self-creation chops too. He had 19 total minutes coming into the night and more than doubled that on Monday. His only other rotation appearance featured lots of the basketball IQ and feel problems that have plagued him, a nod to his five fouls on the evening.

Vogel said Bol was having a few good weeks in the post-practice run featuring the low-minute players, so Bol was going to get another chance with Durant sidelined.

Bol’s going to do some things wrong on the floor. It is a choose-your-own-adventure thrill ride with him on a possession-by-possession basis. He will not put his hand up while defending a 12-foot jumper with his 7-foot-8 wingspan or will wind up on a slap at the ball for the easiest foul call ever. He’s also gigantic, agile and highly skilled.

Vogel put it well pregame.

“When he plays with discipline, his talent is able to shine,” he said.

That’s it. Bol’s an energy player at this point in his young career, and if he can find a way to chain together positive plays while crucially avoiding mistakes, it’s good enough to carve out a home in the NBA. Because his athleticism and talent will take it from there.

He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes while playing within himself, a difficult thing to do when the crowd is audibly captivated every time you get the ball. It was by no means a breakthrough performance signaling his arrival to a permanent role but it was good for the Suns to see him put some stuff together and earn another chance should an opportunity like Monday present itself again.

“He played well,” Vogel said of Bol. “I was really happy to get him an opportunity and really happy that he took advantage of it and played a hell of a basketball game.”

The Suns were both not razor sharp coming out of halftime with an eight-point lead but also solid enough to capitalize on a terrible dozen minutes for Portland that allowed Phoenix to be ahead by 25 for a cruise in the fourth quarter. Phoenix outscored Portland 66-32 in the middle quarters. A 10-0 fourth-quarter start for the Blazers briefly brought some worry that Phoenix’s woes in the period were coming in a major way before a 9-0 Suns response calmed that down.

Booker had his worst game of the year shooting-wise, 4-for-16, a way to label what was a fine basketball game from him when he missed a ton of gimme mid-range attempts he almost always converts on. He ended up with 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two turnovers.

“Yeah. Just missed some easy ones. … There’s nights like that,” Booker said. “If kids can learn anything from this situation, it’s just keep shooting. It’ll even back out, I’ll get on a heater soon.”

Jusuf Nurkic ended a strong December averaging 15.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, and he kept up that form with 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and two blocks on Monday.

Chimezie Metu started in place of Durant and was solid with 14 points, similar to Beal’s game-high 21 and Grayson Allen’s 12.

Nassir Little (left knee soreness) was available, meaning Durant and Damion Lee (meniscus tear) were the only Suns out. Nearly there.

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