- Benjamin Gerstel
Suns drop OKC 124-104
Phoenix heads into their first game since the all-star break facing more adversity than they have all season. Their hall-of-fame point guard Chris Paul has been diagnosed with a right thumb fracture that will sideline him for 6-8 weeks. Paul leads the league in assists per game with 10.7, facilitates better than anyone in the league, and is also one of the best players in the league in crunchtime. What makes Chris Paul’s absence even worse is that it falls on top of a Cam Payne right wrist sprain, so Phoenix does not have a reliable ball handler to run their offense. Landry Shamet is back, but Devin Booker will likely inherit the responsibilities of Chris Paul. Back in 2020, Monty Williams was quoted (by Duane Rankin), saying that “ If there was anything I’d like to explore, [it] would probably be putting Devin at the point guard position a bit more than last year.” The Coach of the Year candidate will have a chance to evaluate the success of that formula tonight.
Phoenix opened up with a lineup of Cam Johnson, Devin Booker, Jae Crowder, Miles Bridges, and Deandre Ayton. As assumed, Devin Booker took over the point guard position for Phoenix. Aside from missing Ayton for a lob on the first possession, and then missing a man on the opposite wing during a slingshot pass, Booker looked confident in his new role. He was very unselfish, passing up open midranges that he would normally take to a wide open Jae Crowder on the left wing. It was clear that he understood his new role, and continued to move the ball and help find the best possible shot all game. While his team’s shot may not have been falling as easily as they normally do (especially from three-point range), it was the Sun’s pace and defense that separated themselves from OKC. Phoenix converted 12 points off of 9 forced turnovers, and also had 14 fast break points compared to Oklahoma City’s zero by the end of the first quarter. Bridges had a steal leading to an unmissable JaVale McGee layup and Devin Booker finished an open layup off of one, showing Phoenix’s ability to turn defense into offense in the first quarter.
Aleksej Pokusevski ignited a run that brought it back to single digits. After a Kobe-esque off the backboard finish, Poku followed up with a tip in after a missed layup. It was a result of OKC taking a page out of Phoenix’s playbook, and stepping up their defense. Oklahoma City forced double the amount of turnovers that they did in the first quarter, and allowed themselves to get back in the game, with a 12-0 run with eight minutes left in the second quarter. They were much more solid defensively than they were earlier on, and the huge run they went on was a product of that. After a second 10-0 run for OKC, a Josh Giddey layup, an SGA corner three, and a SGA layup brought them within three points of Phoenix at the half. Both teams shot an absolutely abysmal 3-19 (yes, 10.34% from three) but still figured out how to utilize their defense to benefit their offense.
After an offensive blow up in the third quarter from Phoenix, where they scored 37 points, Phoenix began to pull away. Oklahoma City managed a few impressive runs throughout the game but Phoenix was able to hold each one off. Phoenix hit 9 three-pointers in the second half and Devin Booker continued to lift Phoenix over Oklahoma City. Booker scored on two straight possessions, and Crowder and Johnson hit back to back threes off of Devin Booker’s passing. Once Johnson hit the dagger three, the game was pretty much out of reach from there. Booker, heavily supported by the charity strike (6-6), was able to excel in his new role. He may have struggled a bit from three, but the all-star shattered his season-high of assists with 12. Because he was delegating more shots, players like Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder were able to step up. They combined for 59 points, 13 assists, and 14 rebounds in Phoenix’s 124-104 win. Gilgeous Alexander had his 11th game of the season with 30+ points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the number one seed out West. Even without Chris Paul, and a horrible shooting performance in the first half, Phoenix still managed to step on OKC. Phoenix will take on the New Orleans Pelicans, tomorrow night at 9:00pm EST.