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Ricky, D and the Cams take over Suns win when stars get in foul trouble

Rubio, Saric Johnson and Payne and several others pulled the Suns out of the muck vs. Mavericks.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Only five minutes into the second half of the most important game for the Suns franchise in almost a decade, we had to watch their young stars take the bench with five fouls each and a 15-point deficit to the hot Mavericks.

Game over. Say goodnight to fun basketball for Suns fans in the Bubble. They are who we thought they were, these Suns. Too young and undisciplined to win a playoff-level game the other team wants to win just badly as they do.

But then it was not, in fact, over.

A lineup of Jevon Carter, Frank Kaminsky, Ricky Rubio, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson improbably went on a 14-1 run in the middle of the 3rd quarter to cut the Mavericks lead almost all the way out.

A bit later, a five-man group of Dario Saric, Carter, Mikal and the Cams ran off a 9-0 run to give the Suns the lead! Mixes and matches of this group, sprinkled with a little Booker and Ayton at the end of it, went on another 11-2 run in the fourth. Then the starters held on for the victory. Cam Payne and JC both drained a pair of threes during the runs to give the Suns new lease on life in the Bubble.

“It’s just a lot of competitive guys with a ton of pride and will,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said afterward. “Like I just told them, this is what I wanted to experience in this bubble was something like this where we had our backs against the wall.”

The Suns went on to win the game, despite the eventual foul-out of Booker and the forcibly timid play of Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, who both had five fouls in the 4th quarter.

“Phoenix did a good job of rallying and keeping the momentum going,” said Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle later. “And they had some guys off the bench that played extremely well that were active, that were aggressive and made big shots. It turned into a very disappointing loss for us.”

“[Monty is] just always trying to tell us to take everything in,” guard Cam Payne said recently. “We have to be prepared every game. We are hungry. That’s the one thing about this team and Monty himself, we are all hungry.”

Jevon Carter, a bulldog on defense but limited with his 6’1” height, found a way to check the 6’8” 260 pound Luka Doncic effectively during that stretch. Carter even battled Luka into drawing a foul, and drawing the ire of the golden boy himself.

“That’s just basketball. People are going to talk,” Carter said later. “They’re going to try to throw you off your game, but like I said, wave my hand, let them have it, stay focused, stay locked in. Basketball is a game of runs and we did our thing.”

Cam Johnson — a rookie taken 11th overall in the 2019 Draft — went from being THE oldest player taken in the Draft lottery in more than a decade (almost 23 years old on draft day) to being one of the youngest ever to tally a double-double in playoff-type atmosphere. I might have made that last part up, but it feels true. Let me have this one! The dude is still just 23 years on the planet and 51 games in the NBA. Johnson finished with 19 points (4-8 on threes), 12 rebounds and 3 assists in the game.

Johnson has taken his recent promotion to the starting unit in stride, invariably coming up with team-oriented responses to questions with a lightness in his air.

“We just got to continue to ride the wave and keep going,” he said recently, after his first start of the season in a scrimmage against the Raptors. “It felt good, getting out there with those guys was great.”

Backup point guard Cameron Payne is something like the 42nd street-level free agent thrown out there by the Suns to run the show in the last four years, and just might be the first one to stick. He plays spirited defense and just enough offense to stay viable.

CamPayne and JC are a pitbull duo on defense who become even more valuable when they can drain their threes.

“As we sit there and watch film, we wreak havoc defensively,” Payne said recently. “Me and Jevon, we could always be better offensively. … but defense leads to offense. If we can get stops, the offense will come.”

“Their energy is contagious, and we just kind of rode that wave for a little bit,” Cam Johnson said after the game of CP and JC.

Dario Saric has a new lease on life in the Bubble. He sees his career taking an unhappy path as an impending restricted free agent who profiles more like a rotational big in the NBA than a long-term starter. So he is embracing every minute he gets, saying all the right things, and playing harder than I’ve personally ever seen him play. Love you Dario. Stay here forever, as the first big off the bench please.

“I’ve been working two months before we started in the Bubble, I’ve been 5-6 days a week in the arena,” Dario said recently of his inspired play. “Sometimes it takes time to adjust on the new team, to fit in.”

He says he prefers to start, but that maybe it’s just more mental than anything. When asked (by me), he did say he appreciates getting to be more of a playmaker with the second unit than the first unit. He makes good decisions with the ball and can set up teammates.

Saric doesn’t make many highlight-worthy plays, but he WAS in the recipient of the beauty in the next section...

And we cannot forget Ricky Rubio, the much-maligned free agent pickup last offseason. Ricky kept his cool and hand-carried that ragtag unit on those runs.

He doesn’t get many headlines, but he nearly posted a triple-double of his own in this game with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists and he arguably having the best season of his career under Monty Williams.

“We talked at halftime that we didn’t bring the juice in the first half,” Rubio said of the Suns 13-point deficit at halftime. “With the foul trouble with DA and Book, (the bench) stepped up big. Huge. That is what playoff team does. The bench helps when the starters don’t have their night. It’s a whole team thing.”

Bask in this win, Suns fans! Enjoy every minute. Here’s nine minutes of highlights for you — some of them even of the Suns good plays!

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