EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns put together latest strong stint of play on road to beat Nets

Jan 31, 2024, 9:23 PM

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns defends against Spencer Dinwiddie #26 of the Brooklyn Nets dur...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns defends against Spencer Dinwiddie #26 of the Brooklyn Nets during their game at Barclays Center on January 31, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

After back-to-back losses sharing similarities, the Phoenix Suns did the same with two consecutive wins, concluded by Wednesday’s 136-120 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Phoenix avoided slippage across three quarters, playing with enough consistency on both ends to be in position for a lights-out scoring stretch of making 14 of its last 16 shots to lead by 19 going into the fourth quarter. Devin Booker got two minutes of rest in the late third so he could start the fourth, a tweak from head coach Frank Vogel to try and alleviate the shortcomings in the final frame. Booker was only at 16 minutes in the first half, which also made that easier to do.

It didn’t matter early on. Brooklyn jumped out to an 11-5 edge over three minutes, forcing Vogel to call a timeout. Kevin Durant checked back in and Bradley Beal got a brief breather before returning as well. The Nets began pressuring full court to slow the game down, the latest nod from an opponent intentionally making that happen, knowing that is an issue for Phoenix in the fourth quarter.

In half-court play, Phoenix began turning the ball over after generating 29 assists to just 10 turnovers three quarters in. These were of the unforced error variety, and a 12-point lead with six minutes left didn’t quite feel safe. But a Durant driving dunk off a Jusuf Nurkic offensive rebound and then an Eric Gordon 3 set up by Nurkic served as a decent enough buffer.

Durant received extra attention to facilitate the Suns’ offensive movement. A give-and-go with Nurkic for the latest pressure brought on a statement slam to effectively end the night.

 

Phoenix did not stop Brooklyn all that much in the fourth quarter, keeping the door open longer than it needed to be. A Cam Johnson triple with under 2:30 remaining got Brooklyn within 10, and after a Nurkic turnover, Mikal Bridges missed a chance from 3 to cut it to seven. The Suns responded with a double-clutch 3 via Eric Gordon for his fifth of the evening, and the extra dagger came from a Booker triple on Bridges.

He even gave Bridges his patented 3-point celebration right in his face.

Ruthless.

Outside of the shambolic fourth quarters in Indiana and Orlando, the Suns have played great overall basketball five games into a season-long road trip and could easily be 5-0 on it.

Durant’s return to Brooklyn for the first time since the trade earned the ABC primetime spot and those in attendance said it was a mix of boos and cheers for his tribute video, with boos coming at times when he had the ball too. He played like it was a big night, producing 33 points, five rebounds and eight assists.

Brooklyn was without backup center Day’Ron Sharpe (left knee), as well as Dorian Finney-Smith (left ankle sprain) and Ben Simmons (left knee), so it used a different mix of smaller lineups when starting 5 Nic Claxton was out. And Claxton is small as it is for a center, allowing Nurkic to heavily impact the game as its lone gigantic body on the floor.

Nurkic feasted on the mismatches, scoring 13 of his 28 points in the second quarter. He added 11 rebounds, six assists and six turnovers, one of his best showings this season. The Bosnian has developed good chemistry with all three of Phoenix’s primary ball-handlers and used that plus his feel to establish proper position. He wasn’t spending many dribbles or seconds punishing the smaller defender with his strength to get right around the basket, where his touch is suspect at times but was great on Wednesday.

The Suns took everything that was working from that and an acquired rhythm off a few stops to put together a 42-point third quarter. Durant had 11 of those, plus eight each for Booker and Nurkic.

Booker was aggressive early, attempting five 3s and nine total shots in the first quarter. This followed the first meeting with Brooklyn in mid-December when he didn’t take a shot in the opening frame for the first time since 2015. That was the debut of the Big 3, a solid reference point to show how there has been some sizable progress made by the trio to flow together.

Booker scored 22 points, with eight assists and two turnovers.

Josh Okogie had his second straight good game with 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Phoenix desperately needs to find another reliable reserve outside of Eric Gordon, and Okogie after last season projected to be at least that, if not the fifth starter again. Consistency has been more of a challenge for him this season, and with that said, the energy plays returning every night would even be a big addition regardless of if he’s hitting 3s or not.

Bridges contributed 21 points for Brooklyn and Johnson added 18.

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