The Phoenix Suns conquered the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night, leaving the Smoothie King Center with a 123-110 win. Following the victory, the Suns head back to The Valley for a nationally-televised contest with the Clippers this Thursday.
Phoenix caught fire for the game’s first 24 minutes, with Devin Booker, Jalen Smith, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson all scoring in double-digits across the first two quarters. The Suns combined their offensive onslaught with stellar team defense (32% FG for Pelicans) to build a 64-54 halftime lead. Despite the statistical dominance, New Orleans refused to quit, with Jonas Valančiūnas, Josh Hart, and Devonte’ Graham headlining the opponents’ efforts.
In the second half, the Suns put the ball in their wings’ hands while the Pelicans continued to feed Valančiūnas. After carrying an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter, New Orleans cut the deficit to two before the Suns finished strong. Bismack Biyombo was a force in the final stanza, and finished the night with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals and blocks apiece.
Phoenix shot 54.1% from the field and a torrid 54.8% from three, while the Pelicans shot a rough 40.4% and 30.3%, respectively. Those numbers were partially offset by New Orleans’ 32 attempts from the charity stripe. The Pelicans won the rebounding battle (48-42), but the Suns’ ball movement (32 assists against just 10 turnovers) proved vital to the win. Devin Booker finished with 33 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, while Chris Paul contributed 11 points and 15 dimes. More on Mikal and Cam’s performances below.
For the Pelicans, Jonas Valančiūnas finished with 25 and 16, while Devonte’ Graham posted 28 points and six assists. Josh Hart pitched in 15 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists in a well-rounded effort.
Stix gets us going out of the gate! A three on the first possession, followed by a bucket on the next. A bucket from Book followed by Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges threes only extend the lead. As easy as the Suns’ offense looks right now, the opposite can be said for the Pelicans. Cam Johnson throws down a hammer over Jonas Valančiūnas, and the Suns are officially on fire to start this one. Willie Green calls a timeout, Phoenix up 16-5 with 9:13 left in the first quarter.
Out of the timeout, both offenses are rolling. Book and Stix are doing the damage for the Suns, while it has been Jonas and Josh Hart for the Pelicans. As Phoenix begins to roll out their bench, the breadth of their roster changes is apparent. Cam Payne is flanked by a bunch of guys that were not with the team on Christmas.
Despite the absences, the Suns young wings are stepping up. Both Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are alternating quality offensive looks with stellar defense. Despite some scoring punch from Jaxson Hayes off the bench, Phoenix is still up 35-24 with 2:08 left in the quarter.
Book finishes the first with a bucket and a pair of free throws, but four free throws and a steal in the final four seconds from Jose Alvarado gets those points back for the Pels.
At the end of one, Suns up 42-31. Book has 13 points, five boards, and four assists for Phoenix, while Stix has 10. For New Orleans, Valančiūnas has six points and three rebounds.
Three minutes into the second quarter, and the Pelicans have fought their way back to make it a four-point game. To make matters worse, it appears that Stix was hit in the face by JV (although it did not appear purposeful). He is headed to the locker room.
It appears that the shot to Jalen’s face may have provided the Suns’ bench with a shot in the arm. With CP3 directing traffic and Mikal and Cam continuing to score, the Suns lead is back up to 16 with 3:34 left in the quarter.
Same spot.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 5, 2022
Cam Johnson going back to back. pic.twitter.com/trA3oSR2Zx
Phoenix is dominating this game, but the Pelicans aggressiveness on offense is keeping it from turning into a blowout. New Orleans is getting to the line at an alarming rate, and if not for that it might be a 30-point game.
JV is a load down low. This is a story that Suns’ fans have seen before. Despite solid scoring efforts from him and Josh Hart early on (as well as nine from Devonte’ Graham), Brandon Ingram’s struggles are really hurting New Orleans.
Phoenix heads into the break shooting 55% from the field, and up 64-54. Book is up to 17 points, while Mikal has chipped in 12 and Cam has added 11.
The Pelicans are shooting just 32% from the field, but their 23 free-throw attempts are keeping them within shouting distance. Valanciunas is leading them in scoring with 13, while Josh Hart is filling up the stat sheet (11 points, six rebounds, and three assists).
Stix is back! Good to see after the shot to the face in the first half.
JV, Hart, and Graham are still at it for New Orleans, but so are Book, Mikal, and Stix.
Panic levels are at a 3 of 10 right now as the Pelicans refuse to quit. New Orleans is riding JV’s size and skill on this mini-run, and he is up to 19 and 10 on the night. Unfortunately for the Suns, Book and Stix just picked up their fourth fouls in quick succession. With 7:19 left in the third, Phoenix is leading 74-69.
CP3 doing CP3 things, as well as more shooting from Mikal and Cam helped the Suns extend their lead to 86-73 with 4:15 left in the quarter. The Pelicans continue to turn to JV and Graham to get their buckets, and although they may not have the firepower to keep up with the Suns, it is not for lack of trying. Graham is up to 16 points on the night.
It seems a clunky fit, but Cam Payne and Elfrid Payton are trying to make their unlikely background pairing work. Also, as Bismack Biyombo is fouled it is worth giving the newly-signed big a shoutout. Jonas may be giving the Suns all sorts of issues, but Bismack has provided quality shifts tonight with Stix in foul trouble. He has eight points, three rebounds, a block, and a steal, and the Suns are +3 in his 18 minutes tonight.
The quarter closes (shockingly) with the Pelicans making a series of trips to the line. Despite that, the Suns’ bench mob has played well enough to maintain a double-digit Phoenix lead. Good guys up 95-84 after three.
The Suns could not buy a bucket to start the fourth, and Brandon Ingram finally got cooking. By halfway through the final quarter, New Orleans had cut the Suns lead to two courtesy of Devonte’ Graham and Ingram.
The Chris Paul-Bismack Biyombo chemistry is REAL! CP3 found Bismack for buckets on back-to-back possessions, which was followed by a Biyombo follow-and-foul (he converted one-of-two), which was followed by a massive Bismack rejection!
Just like he has done so many times before, Book hits an ice-cold three to build the lead back to eight. He is up to 29 on the night, and the Suns are up 109-101 with 4:17 left.
Bismack Biyombo is the greatest player in NBA history. A massive and-one jam makes it a double-digit game.
A Devonte’ Graham three is sandwiched by huge treys from (yet again) Mikal and Cam. Bridges and Johnson is the law firm where opponents’ runs go to die. Suns up 122-106 with 1:28 left.
Player(s) of the Game
This honor goes to two of the Suns’ more unheralded studs, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Devin Booker was excellent, but his greatness is expected (he was the BEST player on the floor tonight). Given the roster challenges Phoenix has faced since Christmas, the ascension of players outside of Book and CP3 is essential to continued success. Every time the Pelicans went on a run tonight, either Mikal or Cam was there to cool them off. Their performance was exactly the type of boost that a team in crisis needs. Bridges ended up with 23 points on 9-13 shooting and helped keep Brandon Ingram to just 5-18 shooting, while Johnson provided 18 points (on five treys) and six rebounds, and finished +35 on the evening.
The Suns will host the Clippers on Thursday, almost certainly looking for revenge. The game is set to start at 8:00 PM AZ time, and will be broadcast on TNT.