The Phoenix Suns traveled to New Orleans to play a struggling Pelicans team, but they received a shot in the arm with news that CJ McCollum, who has averaged 27.1 points in his 12 games thus far in New Orleans, was cleared to play after missing two games.
Rebounding continued to be an issue against the large front line of the New Orleans Pelicans, but the Suns negated the disparity in rebounding and second-chance point numbers with stellar three-point shooting. The three-ball was the friend of the Suns as the team went 18-of-34 on the night (52.9%). The Suns were a +18 from beyond the arc, which ultimately is the reason why they won this game.
Well, that and their dedication to the defensive side of the ball and their depth. The Suns forced the Pelicans to turn the ball over 17 times and converting that into 33 points. The bench outscored that of the Pelicans 43 to 29, including 19 from JaVale McGee.
Devin Booker finished the night with 27 points and 8 assists on the evening, Deandre Ayton added 18 points and 5 rebounds, and Mikal Bridges went 4-of-5 from deep and scored 18 points.
Here is how it went down in the Big Easy...
The night began with a flurry of three-pointers for the Pelicans as they deposited 5-of-7 from beyond the arc to start the game, and when combined with their defense and offensive rebounding, jumped out to an early 9-point lead. The size of Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunsas reminded us that this team is the #3 overall team on the offensive glass.
The Suns responded, however, with defense and tenacity, dropping a 12-0 run on New Orleans as they tightened the screws.
Whoops. pic.twitter.com/10BWrlut7U— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) March 16, 2022
Devin Booker, who took an elbow to the chin on an offensive foul by CJ McCollum, had yet another hot start for the Suns. HIs mid-range game was cooking and, while Aaron Holiday struggled with the second team from a playmaking standpoint, made up for those deficiencies with his distribution. Booker had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting along with 3 assists and 2 rebounds in Q1.
Phoenix shot 61.9% from the field in the first, including 5-of-7 from deep. New Orleans countered with 42.03% shooting, but 11 second chance points kept them within 4 points at the end of the quarter. Suns 33, Pelicans 29 after one.
The beginning of the second quarter, the time in which Devin Booker first takes his rest, has been an offensive challenge for Phoenix as of late. The chasm typically allows the opposition a chance to either expand a lead or get back in the game. Every point when Booker is on the bench at this point is valuable, and after starting the quarter with 5 consecutive points, the Pelicans allowed a 7-0 Phoenix run.
Mikal Bridges’ offense continues to be a reason why Booker can take a few extra minutes to get rest. Young Pippen is expanding his repertoire and shooting with confidence.
Mikal Bridges’ jumper is beautiful.— Suns Nation (@SunsNationNBA) March 16, 2022
( : @suns) pic.twitter.com/WsBh5QYM4n
Booker re-entered the game and calmly knocked down back-to-back three’s over the defensive ROY candidate Herb Jones, then followed up with an assist to Mikal, who hit a three of his own. Bridges went for 13 points in the first half and, while spending the majority of his time on McCollum, held CJ to 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
The Suns went on a 24-9 run in the middle of the second and pushed the lead to 14. New Orleans responded with a 14-2 run of their own, doing so by attacking the glass once again and moving the ball in transition.
The defense of the Suns was the focal point in the first half, forcing 9 turnovers which led to 20 Phoenix points. Booker led all scorers with 19, Ayton had 10 points (but only 3 boards), and the Suns led 67-59.
Suns lead the Pelicans at the half 67-59.— Collin Helwig (@collinhelwig) March 16, 2022
PHX shooting a sizzling 58.1% on FGs. They’re also 11-18 on 3Ps. Booker leading the way in what’s been an offensive clinic.
Booker: 19 PTS, 5 ASTS, 8-12 FGs
Bridges: 13 PTS, 3-4 3Ps
Ayton: 10 PTS, 3 REBS
McCollum began heating up in the 3rd, scoring his 9 Q3 points in a variety of different ways. His elite quickness and three-point shooting can be dangerous, and if he gets going, he will burn you. Couple that with the offensive rebounding onslaught of the Pelicans, and the team started the third on a 13-6 run.
Monty Williams has pulled the trigger on larger lineups to combat the offensive rebounding capabilities of opposing teams as of late, but he was reluctant to do so tonight.
Time for some Ayton + McGee lineups, right?— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) March 16, 2022
The Pelicans padded their interior stats in the third, pushing their totals to 21 second-chance points, 10 offensive rebounds, and 48 points in the paint through three quarters. Whether it was Jonas Valanciunas, Jaxson Haynes, or Willy Hernangomez, the size of New Orleans kept them in the game.
Phoenix continued to take advantage of any and all Pelican mistakes, adding 11 points off of turnovers in the third. Deflating three-pointers following bad possessions for New Orleans allowed Phoenix to keep them at arm’s length and avoid any large three quarter runs.
Devin Booker scored the last 6 points of the third and his 28 points helped the Suns hold a 98-85 lead.
Booker 3.— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) March 16, 2022
Holds the pose.#Suns up 13 going into the fourth after #Pelicans cut lead to one.
The second team unit for the Suns held their ground to open the fourth, outscoring the Pelicans 13-5 to start the quarter and pushing the lead to 19 points. This is what makes the Suns dangerous: that depth. What was impressive is the team had no scoring production from their reserve guards to this point. Landry Shamet and Aaron Holiday combined for a goose egg.
So tonight it was Torrey Craig and JaVale McGee. And they delivered.
JaVale McGee took advantage of a fatigued Valanciunas by out-hustling him to the ball and turned the tables relative to second chance points. In typical McGee fashion, an and-1 opportunity brought the Fellas off the bench to assist him. He scored 13 of his 19 in the fourth quarter.
JaVale brings the fellas off the bench pic.twitter.com/90xh3whGky— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 16, 2022
Torrey Craig had his second consecutive quality shooting game, a bonus anytime it occurs, including 3-of-6 from three and 11 total points.
The heart of the Pelicans was taken from them and the white flag came with 3:30 minutes left when the reserves entered the game.
No rest when you’re the best. The Suns travel to Houston to take on the Rockets tomorrow evening.
See you then Bright Siders!