After a back-and-forth first half, the Suns took control in the third quarter to blow out the conference rival Grizzlies, 122-99.
As tends to happen when Memphis takes on the Suns, both Devin Booker and Dillon Brooks came out firing. They combined to take the first nine shots of the game, scoring 12 of the first 22 total points.
The point guard battle was equally interesting, as Ja Morant played off the ball a lot to start and Chris Paul tinkered with him defensively. Because the Grizzlies don’t have much perimeter defense in their starting lineup and Brooks was occupied with Booker, that meant Morant had to guard Paul. That in turn meant Paul was able to get into the teeth of the defense repeatedly in the first quarter, setting up plays like this:
Oh yeah CP3?— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) March 16, 2021
Of all people to take control of the game, what happened next was Jonas Valanciunas just beasted on the glass and completely dictated the pace of the game. Without Paul out there to foist it back in the Suns’ favor, the game slowed to a crawl as Valanciunas gobbled up offensive board after offensive board.
The Grizzlies built up a 21-14 lead even as Monty Williams went big and Booker remained aggressive.
The Suns didn’t score from the 5:16 mark to the 1:36 mark in the first, but closed the period on a 10-4 run, with Booker scoring five down the stretch and Galloway getting involved on a nice cut.
Galloway kept it going in the second, scoring another basket and generally using his off-ball movement and smart play to juice the Suns’ offense. The Suns stayed hot, starting the period 9-11 overall to retake the lead, 44-43, by the time Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins called a timeout.
The chess match that started to play out at that point featured the two players with the quietest box score lines. Bridges was defending Morant, and doing a good job, but Morant got really aggressive and forced Bridges into two quick fouls. That led Monty to pull his defensive stopper off the court preemptively to avoid foul trouble later in the game. But Morant kept missing, and the Suns’ lead grew.
In large part, that was because the Suns were hot from deep. After starting 1-6, the Suns went 4-8 in the second period en route to a 36-point explosion.
The Suns went into the half up, 60-54.
After a confusing and disappointing third quarter on Saturday that gave the Pacers the lead, Phoenix responded big time in this one. They used the third quarter to put a similar spell on the Grizzlies, outscoring them 36-25.
Much of the damage was done by Booker, who scored 11 points, dished three assists and had his fingerprint on everything the Suns did. He was setting the table on offense despite Cameron Payne being on the floor, all six of his points came on threes, and Memphis was scared by the end of the period, sending multiple guys at him on every possession and struggling to keep it together.
At the same time, the Suns adjusted well to Valanciunas’ strong play by pressuring him whenever he go the ball in the post and then making him run by pushing the pace a bit. Ayton got a few easy transition buckets, while Paul and Jae Crowder made life difficult on Valanciunas and scored a few steals off him.
This play is an example of how the Suns pushed the pace and also how aggressive Booker was:
The Suns went into the fourth up, 96-77.
All they had to do in the fourth was take care of business, and that’s what they did.