There’s obviously been an enormous weight placed on the shoulders of Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton as the Phoenix Suns continue to be without — and win games despite missing — Devin Booker.
Since Christmas (the last time Booker saw the floor), Bridges is averaging 18.7 points (+2.9 from before Christmas) and 4.7 assists (+1.7) while Ayton is averaging 18.2 points (+0.6) and 2.3 assists (+0.4). There was a real tandem-feel to the way the two dominated Phoenix’s 12-point win in Boston on Friday.
Ayton started the game slow, but so did the entire team. More than four minutes passed before the Suns saw their first shot go through, and each of the first four came through Ayton; the fourth one was scored by Bridges but assisted by the big fella.
The tide started to turn early when Ayton turned his lone block of the game into his first of three dunks on the night, assisted by transition master Bridges:
Turning defense into offense.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 4, 2023
DA finishes the break with a slam! pic.twitter.com/S8AlqQTH31
Ayton was able to turn what started out as an 0-3 start and shoot 4-5 from the floor from that point on to earn a team-best eight first quarter points. He played all but two seconds of the first quarter, notable because he was yet to play more than 10 minutes in any first quarter this season. The defense was electric and back to what we expect from Ayton, too:
Help on drive. Get to nail to show help. Close out. Recover. Switch. Contest.— David (@theIVpointplay) February 4, 2023
Now THAT is the defense I know Deandre Ayton is capable of. pic.twitter.com/Al7hS3jGlu
Bridges supplemented Ayton’s quarter well, shooting 4-8 for eight points in the first as well, including this pair of buckets around the paint:
Both disappeared in the second quarter a bit, combining to shoot 0-2 from the field, but Bridges made up for it in the third with nine points before Ayton re-joined him on that level. In the fourth, Bridges had his third quarter on the night with at least eight points while Ayton dished out two assists in the final four minutes and tipped in a dunk to ice the game:
I can’t overstress how cool it is that these two can have nights like these where they’re both able to impress and play key roles in such a huge win. There’s something to be said about the opportunity provided by Booker’s absence and how it allows for more offensive production — we already mentioned the upticks offensive stats for both — but there’s also an element of rising to the occasion.
Ayton, in the first year of a maximum contract, has gotten plenty of opportunities for offensive shine this year and chances to become a hinge point on that end, but it’s generally been a mixed bag of results. Bridges, meanwhile, has been a perfect painting of consistency over the last few weeks, and it’s happening because he’s ready:
"Working. I don't think earlier in my career I was capable as much and as confident."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) February 4, 2023
Mikal Bridges as he continues to produce late in close victories for #Suns. Scored 8 of his 25 points in the 4th, hitting back-to-back buckets to put Phoenix up 10 at #Celtics with 2:59 left. pic.twitter.com/iojXHfG4kE
Saben Lee, playing in his second game since taking Duane Washington Jr.’s two-way slot on the roster, did a solid job in just 13 minutes. He turned it over twice early in the night, but settled things down afterwards, finishing with seven points, two assists, and one of the better highlights of the night:
Saben Lee drops the HAMMER— NBA (@NBA) February 4, 2023
Suns lead by 7 in Boston!
WATCH: https://t.co/WjxYAo0Ivs pic.twitter.com/hBth9jllxP