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Recap: Suns crush Pacers, finish road trip 4-1

Pushing forward to Durant time...

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are waiting.

The team has had great success over the last three years. It advanced to the NBA Finals in 2020-21, had a franchise-best 64 wins last season and is in the midst of a solid stretch with its return of starting shooting guard Devin Booker from a groin injury.

But the best is expectedly yet to come.

The Suns are waiting on the arrival of superstar forward Kevin Durant, who they traded for in a blockbuster deal before Thursday’s trade deadline. Durant is expected to give Phoenix perhaps the final push it needs to win its first NBA championship in franchise history. But until he arrives in town and recovers from an MCL sprain, the Suns’ exciting days will be on the doorstep.

Until the door opens, Phoenix has a chance to build momentum before the All-Star break. Durant is expected to return after. The Suns did that with their 117-104 win over the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indiana.

Phoenix needed to get back on track after a 116-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on the road Thursday night. The Suns were depleted without usual starting forwards Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who were traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Durant and TJ Warren. It forced Phoenix to start an uncommon two-center lineup with usual starting center Deandre Ayton and Jock Landale, which it has done when it has been depleted earlier this season.

It was not enough as the Suns trailed by double digits throughout the game and as many as 19 points. Phoenix severely missed Bridges and Johnson and was without Booker, who rested his groin.

The Suns, which had Booker, Paul and Ayton available Friday, played a very complete performance against the Pacers. All five of their starters reached double figures in scoring and backup forward Ish Wainwright contributed 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting with two assists off the bench.

Unlike Thursday night, Phoenix got off to a solid start against the Pacers. It led by as many as 12 points in a period which it won 30-24. The Suns began to build an edge on the glass and finished the game with a 53-38 rebounding advantage. Craig had five offensive rebounds, Ayton had four and Landale and starting guard Josh Okogie each had three.

Phoenix also had a 54-40 edge in points in the paint and 26-18 advantage in second-chance points at the end of the game.

In fact, Phoenix scored at least 30 points in the first three quarters before it had 22 in the final period, which it led by as many as 26 and had put the game away. It demonstrated a consistent offensive display, which resulted in its solid shooting percentage at 46.2 percent (43-of-93 from the field and 10-of-33 from 3-point range).

The Suns were led by Ayton, who had 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting with 11 rebounds. He was tied with Paul, who had 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting with nine assists, two rebounds and two steals, in plus/minus at plus-23.

After the Pacers cut the Suns’ first quarter lead to 30-27 with a 3-point play from backup guard Bennedict Mathurin, Phoenix took over. It went on a 9-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers from Booker and another three from Wainwright, which gave it a 39-27 lead with 9:38 left in the second quarter.

Indiana cut the Suns’ deficit to six multiple occasions but Phoenix responded and pushed it to as many as 14 and then 13 at halftime.

The third quarter was the Suns’ best offensively, as they shot 11-of-21 from the field. Paul had nine points in the period and Ayton had eight, which helped Phoenix build its lead to 15 points in the first three minutes of the quarter and then by as many as 19.

The Suns quickly put the game away in the fourth quarter, which allowed them to rest most of their starters. Booker hit a 3-pointer to give them a 102-80 lead with 9:57 left, and they led by as many as 26 when they went up 107-81 with 8:06 left after a shot from Craig.

After Ayton, Booker had 21 points (7-of-18 from the field and 3-of-9 from 3-point range) with five assists and four rebounds to lead the Suns. Craig had a double-double with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with 12 rebounds along with three assists, and guard Josh Okogie had 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds and three steals.

The Suns had 13 steals as a team, which was tied for their second-most this season.

Phoenix is momentarily in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Western Conference standings with the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks with its 31-27 record. The Suns finished their five-game road trip with an impressive 4-1 mark.

Here were the final stats for the game.

Also, a clip from Luka Doncic earlier today:

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