EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns respond to poor start, hit usual 4th-quarter slog in win vs. depleted Cavs

Mar 11, 2024, 7:20 PM | Updated: 8:23 pm

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns shoots against Sam Merrill #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during...

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns shoots against Sam Merrill #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 11, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio.(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Monday was a tremendous opportunity for the Phoenix Suns, playing a great Cleveland Cavaliers team without Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Max Strus and Dean Wade in their fifth game over seven days.

Even with the return of Devin Booker after a four-game absence, it took a lot more effort than expected in a 117-111 win.

Following a Suns (38-27) response in the middle quarters to a tepid start, Cleveland (41-24) actually had multiple chances to win the game. It got within two at 90 seconds remaining but back-to-back turnovers by the Cavaliers let Phoenix get the ball back with 26 seconds left and a two-point lead.

Grayson Allen was fouled, made both free throws and Kevin Durant did an excellent job defending at the rim while securing the ball to wrap the game up.

It was a 20-point fourth quarter. The Suns require major improvement in those 12 minutes to stand any chance in the postseason and there still haven’t been many signs of growth since the All-Star break.

Durant continued his torrid pace over the last few weeks with 37 points (14-of-26), eight rebounds, six assists and three turnovers. Even with a healthy top-six of the rotation, Durant played 39 minutes. Eric Gordon and Josh Okogie were both out.

Booker looked like himself, contributing 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists (with two turnovers) while this was a very good Bradley Beal game. Beal added 24 points, four assists, three steals and one turnover.

Phoenix had a lackadaisical start that was chalked up more to mental mistakes than anything else, allowing Cleveland to get up by 18 points in the early second quarter. Star guard Darius Garland was given too much air space early on and scored 21 of his 30 points in the first quarter.

That was when the Suns’ defensive intensity and focus ratcheted up. In addition, Booker was highly aggressive. Booker will almost always play to the rhythm of a game, but when he hasn’t been heavily involved in a start that turns sideways for Phoenix, he will often attempt to take over the best he can. This was true over a half-decade ago and remains true now on much better teams.

The charge from Booker and the defense inspired a 19-7 run to end the half with the Suns down just seven.

That persisted out of halftime, where the momentum on defense carried over to the other side of the floor and some ridiculous shot-making out of all members of the Big 3. It was mostly Durant and Booker after Beal did a great job being effective while Phoenix was figuring everything else out in the opening 18 minutes.

Booker grabbed four offensive rebounds to begin the second half, tying his career high over just a short stretch. That included three on the same possession.

A 34-21 Suns third quarter included 19 of those via Durant to get a lead and establish it at six.

Cleveland didn’t just go away in the final frame that has haunted the Suns on so many nights this year, though, evening the game back up at 7:50 to go and keeping it tight the rest of the way.

Suns center Jusuf Nurkic checked out with 6:43 left at 29 minutes and did not come back into the game despite how tight it was. He remained on the bench, a sign it wasn’t an injury concern. Nurkic is observing Ramadan, which could have been a factor. Head coach Frank Vogel postgame, however, indicated Nurkic was OK and Phoenix preferred the mobility backup Drew Eubanks provides in the coverages on Garland.  Eubanks has been a roller coaster all season and did not have a particularly good outing on Monday. The fanbase continues to call for those minutes going to buyout signing Thaddeus Young.

With 117 points, the Suns had 23 assists and 14 turnovers.

It was one of those results like the victory over Toronto where the Suns showed progression while winning is imperative, but for now, they will take the wins to attempt escaping the play-in mix. They are tied with the Sacramento Kings in the loss column (27) at the play-in line. The Dallas Mavericks won on Monday to stay just one back in eighth.

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