Bringing back memories of the 2020-21 Phoenix Suns’ magic, their bench stole the show on a night the New Orleans Pelicans tried to steal a game without their stars after doing the same to the Dallas Mavericks two nights ago.
The Pels took an early lead, 27-21 after one, but then the Suns bench took control of the game. They staked the starters the lead not once but twice — in the middle of each half — and their hustle was a sight to see.
Cameron Payne is back to his old self (12 points on 5/9 shooting, 4 assists), as is Torrey Craig (13 points, 6 rebounds), and we are starting to see Landry Shamet and Jock Landale do all the good things you need to make a difference. Bismack Biyombo had 11 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.
And the Suns needed them. Their two leading scorers — Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, averaging 50 points a night together — combined for only 20. They needed, the play of Mikal Bridges and the bench was so so needed. Booker had his first bad shooting game of the year, and Ayton went out after 8 minutes with a sprained ankle.
Mikal Bridges finished with 27 HUGE points, with 4 assists and 3 blocks. Cameron Johnson had 16, as did Devin Booker.
Suns win, 124-111
The Suns are now 4-1 on the season, and it sure looks like how Steve Kerr described them three days ago: “buttoned up”.
They have now won their last three games by a combined by 51 points.
How it went
Well, first of all let’s point out the Pelicans were missing three starters, with Zion Williams (butt), Brandon Ingram (concussion) and Herbert Jones (hyper-extended knee) all OUT, along with rotation player Dyson Daniels (ankle).
On the other side, the Suns aren’t missing anyone they’ve had all season (meaning, Jae and Ish are still out).
Man the Suns came out FOCUSED, with crisp decisive passing at full speed ahead. They were up 10-3 on five buckets right at the rim — layups or dunks (Ayton) — before the Pelicans even knew what hit them. Timeout, Pels!
Then of course the Suns lost all that focus, and settled for too many jump shots they just missed. At the same time, the Pelicans kept grinding, and went on their own 16-4 run to take a 19-14 lead. In the meantime, both Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton rolled their ankles landing on a Pelican player’s foot. I thought that was a foul if you don’t give a guy landing space? Anyway... Timeout, Suns.
Update: DA went to the locker room on the rolled ankle, while Mikal stayed on the sideline.
The Suns started 1-9 on threes, while the Pelicans started 5-10 — guess what that means? Yep, Pelicans lead.
After one quarter, Pelicans lead 27-21. They finished the quarter on a 24-11 run against the cold-shooting Suns.
Finally, the lid came off the rim, with Shamet and Payne draining threes as the second quarter opened, and soon it was tied 29-29.
This is quickly becoming the TORREY CRAIG half — he’s getting offensive rebounds, made a three... he was up to 9 points, 4 rebounds (3 offensive) as he gave the Suns a 31-29 lead on his third put-back.
With the game tied 33-33, Bismack Biyombo checked in to give Jock Landale a breather (DA still not out of the locker room from that rolled ankle).
On the three-pointer watch, with the Pelicans up 36-33 on Trey Murphy 3, the Suns are now 3-15 on threes while the Pels on 6-14.
The Suns starters came trickling back in around Bis, and slogged their way through the rest of the half. They couldn’t hit any open shots, so it was down to forcing Pels misses and driving into the paint for the bucket or contact or both.
At one point during the grind the Suns took a 10 point lead (53-43) to get separation despite such shooting woes. Devin Booker is having his worst shooting game of the season so far, missing a lot of open shots.
At the half, Suns lead 57-52. Mikal Bridges leads the team with 15 points, while the bench carried the team for the most part, with all 6 players at least +3 in plus/minus at the half. Torrey Craig has 11 off the bench. Biyombo has 7 rebounds, 3 assists and (at least) one block.
At halftime, the Suns announced that Deandre Ayton would not return to the game (ankle sprain, Valenciunas’ foot). Biyombo started the second half in his place.
The Pels came out shooting again, making a trio of threes to take the lead. They were really aggressive and decisive... and their shots were falling, which helped. And without DA in there, Valenciunas can just stand there under the basket with his hands held high and grab/tip every ball bouncing off the rim.
Mikal Bridges did everything he could to keep the Suns in the game, even giving them the lead on a great three at the top of the arc. Mikal’s got more three-point makes (3) in this game than he had in the previous four (1) combined. And then gave them the 6-point on a high-speed cut to the basket.
The bench — so nice to say this!!! — began to build the lead, putting the Suns up 89-78 on a Cam Payne three after a Pels turnover caused by Payne’s activity. The Payne/Shamet/Landale/Lee group with Booker was fun to watch.
Suns up 93-83 at the end of three. Payne has 10 points on 4/6 shooting and 4 assists in 13 minutes. Bridges leads the Suns with 25 points on 9/12 shooting.
Pelicans open the 4th with JV — I’m assuming this is to make a push back into the game, and he might play all 12 minutes if he has to. And he might touch the ball every time down.
Except, the Suns didn’t let their plan work. They collapsed on the passing lanes, dug in for steals on drives, and ran the lead to 106-90 by halfway through the 4th. Yes, the Pels are short on bodies, but man this just feels like the 2020-21 Suns more than last year’s — meaning scrappy, tireless, work you for 48 minutes and eventually break you down.