- Benjamin Gerstel
Phoenix becomes first team in the NBA with 50 wins on the season
With Devin Booker and Chris Paul out, Monty Williams was able to experiment a little with his lineups tonight. Usually, with Chris Paul out, Monty would start Booker at the one and Cam Johnson at the two. Tonight, Williams decided to go with a different direction, after Devin Booker was reported out due to COVID-19 protocols. He started Cameron Payne, who is playing his first game in a while, Landry Shamet in the back-court. Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Deandre Ayton filled out the rest of the Suns starting lineup.
Payne’s ball-handling and pace allowed Phoenix to find a nice tempo in the first half. Nearly every player contributed, in classic Phoenix fashion, but Bridges, Ayton, Johnson, and Crowder stepped up the most. The Suns were moving the ball around a ton and they did not settle for any shot. Phoenix also continuously turned defense into offense, which made for a perfect formula for success. One play early on that summed up the half was when a JaVale McGee block led to a Torrey Craig three pointer on the left wing. As for the young and inexperienced Portland lineup, they did not have the same success offensively.
More than half of Portland’s starting five has played under 6 games for the organization before tonight. Drew Eubanks for example, has played in just two games for Portland this season after being acquired by San Antonio. Even though they had almost no chemistry, Portland put up a respectable fight against Phoenix in the first quarter. Drew Eubanks threw down a jaw-dropping dunk over JaVale McGee to end the first quarter and was Anfernee Simmons’s partner in crime throughout the game. Simmons provided a huge scoring burst, going 3-3 in the first quarter from downtown. After the first quarter however, the game was another story. Phoenix mounted Portland’s initial comeback and didn’t look back from there.
In the second half, the Suns had a completely different game plan for Anfernee Simmons, and it allowed Phoenix to pull away. Bridges locked him up, and they also hedged on screens to eliminate any space he may create. Simmons is one of the most offensively potent guards in the game today and extremely underrated. A lot of teams don’t figure him out until it’s too late, but Mikal Bridges and Monty Williams were able to evaporate him. Once this happened, Portland’s energy on offense was just non-existent. Ayton kept feasting down low and former-Net Landry Shamet contributed with 12 points off the bench, including an emphatic dunk in response to a forceful Elleby block. Cam Johnson continued to thrive off the bench and hit his fourth three of the night towards the end of the third quarter. Phoenix’s air-tight defense made it impossible for Portland to score and the Suns held the Trailblazers to just 40 points over the second and third quarters. Going into the fourth like the second and third, Phoenix had all the momentum in their favor.
Phoenix’s bench continued to roll in the fourth, as Torrey Craig drained a three to cross the 100-point threshold early on in the fourth. JaVale continued to make an impact down low and Aaron Holiday provided some buckets as well. Phoenix finished out the game strong, and throttled Portland in the last three quarters. Brandon Williams (14 points), Trendon Watford (13 points, 6 assists, and 7 rebounds), and Drew Eubanks (13 points 8 rebounds) led the way for Portland but it was nowhere near enough to make a dent in Phoenix’s lead. As for Phoenix, Cam Johnson had 20 off the bench, Holiday and Payne combined for 17 assists, Ayton had 18-8, and McGee held it down defensively for the Suns. Aaron Holiday dribbled out the 120-90 win for Phoenix, which made them the first team in the league with 50 wins. On a night where they honored Al McCoy for 50 years announcing the team, getting their 50th win is nothing but poetic.