All five Phoenix Suns starters scored in double figures, and the Suns used their defense to stop the Raptors winning streak, winning 99-95 in Toronto.
Devin Booker made some plays trying to set the tone from the jump in this one, starting with jumping a pass and drawing a clear path foul on the ensuing fast break.
In addition to the clear path, Booker added two shot attempts and an entry pass to Deandre Ayton within the first 2:12, so Booker had his focus and energy dialed all the way up, but that wouldn’t pay dividends for himself as he played the full quarter without making a shot (one made free throw).
There was a lot going right for Toronto early though, including some contested jumpers from Fred VanVleet that seemed to be cash no matter what. They were also capitalizing on every bobbled catch from Ayton (two in the first four and a half minutes).
Ever a bright spot in rough games for Phoenix, Jalen Smith scored their final five points of the first quarter and started the second with a block.
The second quarter — and the Suns’ efforts to get back in the game after VanVleet’s dominance — was led by Jae Crowder, who scored 10 straight to bring the Suns within 3. Later on, Chris Paul was able to tie the game at 40 with less than four in the half, before he hit Mikal Bridges on a cut to take the lead.
Crowder hit the Suns’ final bucket of the half and had an opportunity to get another at the buzzer, but finished the half with 16 points on 6-10 (4-7 from three) in his second game back from Covid protocols, and the Suns were down 46-48.
After hitting only one basket in the first half, Booker was determined to make sure the second was better, hitting his first three of the game early in the third and hit another a few minutes later. That fire was showing itself on the defensive end as well:
the best defense devin booker has played in his life pic.twitter.com/KAgakB3O4T— damon allred (@iamdamonallred) January 12, 2022
Booker would sit with foul trouble at the 1:17 mark in the third after a 9-point third followed a 4-point half. The game continued to get scrappier and scrappier and slower and slower, resulting in a very low score after 3 with the Suns down 69-71.
Despite the halftime show talking about Smith telling the coaches he’s most comfortable playing the 5, he got a lot of minutes in this one at the 4. It was probably the most comfortable that Stix has looked in a bench role after a strong stint as a starter when Ayton and JaVale McGee were in Covid protocols. He finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and a block in his 18 minutes.
Head coach Monty Williams called a timeout with 9:01 left down 73-79 after not liking what he saw from the bench unit that was out there at the time. He came back with mostly starters — Landry Shamet, fresh off Covid in his own right, in place for Booker.
That group forced Toronto head coach Nick Nurse to call his own timeout, after which a transition and-one from Bridges tied the game at 79.
The rebounding discrepancy started to make itself felt even more than it had been all game during this stretch in the fourth at which point the Raptors were winning the offensive boards 19-8, causing Crowder to let out a “Box the f--- out” at one point, trying to inspire extra effort from his teammates.
After each team traded haymakers down the stretch, the Suns made free throws when it counted and fouled up 3 whenever they got the chance and won a tight one, 99-95.
- The rebounding needs to be addressed. Suns were outrebounded 38-48 and 10-22 on the offensive end. I know Williams likes to send as many guys to the defensive end and get set as possible, but that idea is reaching it’s tipping point.
- All five starters reached double figures, led by Crowder with 19, but bench scoring was hard to come by without Cam Johnson, out with an ankle injury.
- Suns turned the ball over 20 times, the most this season.
- Chris Paul had 12 assists and 5 steals, both of which help his campaign to league the lead in both this season. This game solidifies his lead in total assists (402, Russell Westbrook — 336) and steals (78, Marcus Smart — 74)
The Suns visit the Pacers Friday evening for the second straight road game on this five-game trip. Phoenix will host Indiana later this month as well, with the season series starting and finishing over a 12-day span.