But then the Suns turned up the heat on defense, forcing the Spurs to take (and miss) a lot of jumpers to close the gap and take a lead before halftime.
The second half was all Suns, until a run by the Spurs bench against the Suns depleted second unit led to a 26-10 spurt to tie the game at 88-88 with half a quarter to go.
That’s when Chris Paul went to work, forcing the Spurs to match score for score down the stretch. They couldn’t do it. A Cameron Johnson three with 1:10 left gave the Suns a 6-point lead.
Ayton scored on the next possession, and Chris Paul nailed the coffin closed on a three-point play to put the Suns up 108-102 with just seconds left.
Suns win, 108-104.
Suns are now 20-4 this season with the best record in the NBA at the moment (could be tied again with GS before too long though), and have an 11-game home winning streak.
Chris Paul finished with 21 points and 10 assists, while Deandre Ayton scored early and late to finish with 14 points, 9 rebounds 4 assists and a block. Jae Crowder had a great third quarter, and finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds.
First Half Notes
The Suns started the game with Landry Shamet attacking the basket on catches, partially by design and partially due to the Spurs defense on Paul. Shamet generated two shots by Deandre Ayton (one a putback) and then a pair of free throws on a slam attempt.
The Spurs stayed close or in the lead with good shotmaking, which hasn’t been their thing all year but HAS been a staple of their modest four-game win streak. If the Spurs make more than half their shots, they might win this thing. In fact, they probably will win if they exceed 50% shooting.
No one outside the paint could shoot the ball in the first quarter though, making only 5-17 shots by players not named Ayton/McGee. Two of those were layups, too.
Not coincidentally, the Suns were down 33-26 after one quarter. The Spurs made 56% of their shots, including 5/10 on threes.
A defense-fueled run by the bench to start the second quarter pulled the Suns to within 35-34 to force a Spurs timeout just two minutes into the quarter, despite still not draining a single three pointer (0-7 now).
The Suns finally made a three, by Cameron Payne, to tie the game at 37-37, but then the Spurs jumped right back up 42-37 to force a Suns timeout to put the starting lineup back in.
I’ve noticed Suns opponents are creating a lot of back-cuts lately to take advantage of Suns aggressive defense in the passing lanes — by running full speed out to the perimeter for a fake outlet pass, then cutting it right back behind the Suns defender on a dive to the basket for the actual pocket pass. This only works on an aggressive defense.
On the other end, the Spurs have created a bunch of turnovers on Ayton rolls with multiple help defenders diving in on the catch at once to meet him at the ball. The Suns will have to see this and adjust in the second half to kick it out to shooters. They have also swiped a lot at the ball on Ayton bringing it up for the shot, getting quite successful at hitting all ball and no wrist.
The Suns were still down 47-42 with just 3:03 left in the half and only 2 threes drained, out of 10. Luckily the Spurs went cold too, missing nearly everything in the second quarter. Chris Paul and Jae Crowder missed the last two of their threes even though they were wide open.
Then Chris Paul decided the Suns needed the lead at halftime. He made a trio of his patented jumpers and then set up Cameron Johnson for the go-ahead three-point play. Call it clutch-practice, I guess.
Suns lead 51-48 at halftime.
Second half notes
The Suns started off the second half with a stop and new-in-2021 Jae Crowder floater to take a 53-48 lead.
The lid stayed on the basket for the Spurs until they hit a three to pull back to 56-52 — only their second three since the the 9-minute mark of the first quarter.
Crowder scored four times for 9 points in only 3.5 minutes to start the third, and the Suns took at 63-54 lead before the Spurs knew what hit them.
The Suns really made separation at that point, getting the mojo on both ends to create a 16-point separation. Deandre Ayton put on a defensive clinic, either swatting or deterring at least a half dozen Spurs shots in a short stretch — even daring guards to try to shoot over him a couple times. Fun to watch, for Suns fans.
On the other end, Ayton had a hard time scoring after that first quarter with the Spurs focusing on preventing his easy shots. On one hand, the Suns are killing the Spurs on shooting because of Ayton’s gravity of defenders in the paint, but on the other hand he batted and slapped a couple of hard passes away. He was up to 5 turnovers for the game by the time McGee came in for his second stint.
The Suns new (injury-forced) second unit that includes Ish Wainright and Elfrid Payton had a good first run in the first half, finishing with a slight positive net scoring margin, but just doesn’t look that great. They don’t have a lot of shotmaking in the lineup and don’t have the passers or spacing threat to get Cameron Johnson a lot of looks.
The Spurs went on a run to cut the Suns lead from 16 to 6, forcing Monty Williams to once again call a timeout to bring back in the starters. But the Spurs had momentum and the starters had trouble scoring.
And with 6:08 to go, Doug McDermott was left open to tie the game at 88-88. That’s a 26-10 Spurs run!
Suddenly neither team can get stops and it’s a one-point lead for the Suns with just four minutes to go.
The Spurs kept up the scoring pace for a bit longer, but the Suns defense stepped up enough to force enough misses to create a bit of separation, with a 100-95 lead at the two minute mark.
Unfortunately, Jae Crowder committed a foul and then got a tech called on him to help the Spurs make it a one-possession game again. Dejounte Murray got a steal but Chris Paul forced the turnover right back and... Cameron Johnson got the three on the other end.
103-97 Suns with 1:10 to go.
A Doug McDermott three made it interesting, but Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton scored to close it out. Paul’s three-point play got him ‘MVP’ chants as he put the Suns up 108-102 with 17.1 left.