The Phoenix Suns stifled the Brooklyn Nets in the 4th quarter, after a game runs that saw the score as close as 95-92. But then Phoenix did its thing. They upped the energy, applied the clamps on one end and moved the ball to perfection for open scores on the other.
By mid-fourth, the Suns were up 105-96 and the game was in hand even before the clutch began.
Devin Booker had 35 big points, while Chris Paul had another double-double (20 points, 14 rebounds). Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder returned a bit rusty, but their slack was more than picked up by Mikal Bridges having possibly his best game of the year with 27 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block.
Brooklyn threw in the towel with 3 minutes left in the game. Kyrie Irving had 26 points and James Harden had 22 points and 10 assists. Blake Griffin chipped in 17 off the bench.
Suns win, 121-111.
Phoenix moves to 41-9, the top spot in the NBA, while Brooklyn is now 29-21.
Jae Crowder, in his first game back in over a week, made a three on the first offensive possession for the Suns, but then Devin Booker went to work to score several buckets (7 of the Suns first 12 points). The Nets answered with their own big guys, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, scoring or assisting.
Harden and Kyrie came out aggressive, getting hard fouls in the teeth of the Suns defense. Suns committed four fouls in the first four and a half minutes.
Still, the Suns took a big lead thanks to 11 of 13 shooting to start the game, getting up 25-16 despite the Nets shooting pretty well themselves. Devin Booker had 13 on 6/6 shooting.
The Suns kept the lead throughout the first quarter while both teams came back down to earth a bit from the lofty shooting start.
Suns led 39-29 after one, finishing 15/21 shooting for the quarter.
The second quarter started with the Suns playing their third center of the night. DA played 7 minutes, JaVale played 5 and now Bismack Biyombo gets some time now.
Also, while Elfrid still can’t score he’s doing well against the Nets’ bigger guards, including James Harden with his ability to stay up on him.
Harden stayed in heavy attack mode, looking more physical in this game than I’ve been him this season.
Ayton came back in at the 7:40 mark after Harden had abused Biyombo’s drop defense one too many times to lobs for Claxton.
The Suns had a 51-43 lead at the midpoint of the second quarter, fueled a lot by Cameron Johnson’s 13 points off the bench (missed his first three shots, made the next 4) and Mikal Bridges, who was aggressive in getting 12 early points. Chris Paul had 9 early assists.
The Rockets kept playing hard and the Suns missed some shots when they went into hero ball a bit (one or no passes into a shot), pulling the score back to 53-49.
Suns took a 65-58 halftime lead on a Chris Paul layup with time expiring, giving the Suns a 7-point lead. They are really hanging on that great first quarter, being outscored 29-26. They have to be a bit concerned with how easy the Nets are getting good shots up. Of course, a lot of that is Harden and Kyrie playing well, but some is Suns defense slipping a bit. Ayton and Crowder are a step slow on that end, combing for only two rebounds and four fouls in the half.
The Suns came out a little flat to start the second half, and quickly found themselves being outscored 7-0 and it was a tie game, until Devin Booker finally got the Suns on the second half scoreboard with a driving layup.
The Nets took their first lead, 70-69, on a wide open Patty Mills three, but then Paul got some free throws and made a three, sandwiching a DA block on Kyrie Irving, to put the Suns back up 74-70.
Ayton had a poor defensive first half, but was much more engaged in the third quarter, grabbing 4 rebounds and stopping at least three shots at the rim (he got one block credited).
That Chris Paul sequence started a 19-7 run that put the Suns up 88-76, forcing a Nets timeout.
At that point, the Suns lost a bit of momentum putting a number of backups in, but still had a 91-82 lead after three.
The Nets would not go away, making their 15th three pointer early in the 4th quarter (they only average 11 per game, 5th lowest in the league) to pull back to 95-92.
Then Mikal Bridges put his stamp on the game with great off ball movement to get put-backs and transition finishes. He’s up to 25 points, plus 7 rebounds and 4 assists with the Suns up 105-96 with half a quarter to go.
The “Five minutes or less” Suns were just relentless in this one to close it out. Booker, Bridges and Paul all played great.
Suns win, 121-111.
The Suns travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks — who are fighting for their play-in lives — in Phoenix’s second straight TNT game Thursday evening at 5:30.