The Phoenix Suns’ play of late was more indicative of how they have performed over the last three regular seasons.
Phoenix had won seven of its last nine contests and appeared to be on a very positive stretch entering February. The month will also almost certainly include a trade for Jae Crowder, who has not played this season due to what is assumed to be a contract dispute, and the long-awaited return of All-Star guard Devin Booker from a groin injury.
Fresh off a win over the NBA’s first-placed team, the Boston Celtics, the Suns had great momentum entering Friday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, who ranked last in the Eastern Conference with a 14-39 record. Detroit has not been good defensively this season and presented an opportunity for Phoenix to build upon its strong run in its second contest of a five-game road trip.
The Suns did just that. They assisted 34 of 42 shots, starting center Deandre Ayton had a dominant game with 31 points and 16 rebounds and Phoenix shot 56.0 percent as a team in its 116-100 win over the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, Friday night.
The Suns have now won eight of their last 10 games and improved to 29-26 – tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth place in the Western Conference – while Detroit fell to 14-40, which at the moment is the worst record in the NBA.
Phoenix jumped out to a 13-3 lead that showed just how effective it could be against a Pistons team that ranked among the worst three teams in opponent shooting percentage, opponent effective field-goal percentage and opponent 2-point percentage entering Friday’s game. The Suns only led by three points after the first quarter but saw it improve to nine again by halftime after starting forward Mikal Bridges, who finished with 24 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals, hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
That opened the floodgates for the Suns in the second half. They started the third quarter on a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 66-49. They led by double digits for most of the third quarter as they created separation against the Pistons with their pursuit of the paint.
Phoenix shot 31-of-53 from inside the arc (11-of-23 from 3-point range) and finished with 54 points in the paint compared to Detroit’s 30.
The Suns never saw their lead fall below double digits in the fourth quarter. They had three bench scorers score at least five points – forward Dario Saric (six with three assists and two rebounds), forward Jock Landale (seven with six rebounds) and forward Ish Wainwright (five with four rebounds and two steals) – and were able to get good contributions so their starters never had to take the game over on their own.
Phoenix went on a mini run to seal the game when Bridges made a corner 3-pointer to give them a 103-89 lead with 6:06 left. He later had an and-one that gave the Suns their 49th and 50th points in the paint and a 106-91 lead.
After that, starting forward Cam Johnson – who had – hit a 3-pointer that gave the Suns their largest lead, 109-91, to bury the Pistons. Johnson had 20 points on nine shot attempts with two assists, two rebounds and two steals.
All but one Suns starter (forward Torrey Craig) were at least plus-20 during the game. Starting point guard Chris Paul only had two points (0-of-7 from the field) but had 14 assists, four rebounds and two steals.
The Suns will next face the Brooklyn Nets, who have a rumored trade target for them, Kyrie Irving, Tuesday at 5 p.m. MT at Barclays Center.
Here is how the Suns’ win unfolded by each quarter.
Score: 30 to 27 (Suns)
The Suns jumped out to a 13-3 lead, which included eight points from Ayton. He made his first three shots and had two rebounds that gave Phoenix an advantage against Detroit, whichstarts two centers, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren.
DA is off to a hot start!— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 5, 2023
8 early points
3-4 from the field pic.twitter.com/h6fTDm59vA
The Pistons answered with a 14-9 run that cut Phoenix’s lead to 24-21. After the Suns led 15-5, more importantly, Detroit outscored them 22 to 15 for the remainder of the period.
Bridges, Ayton and starting forward Torrey Craig each had eight points for the Suns. Pistons starting forward Bojan Bogdanovic had nine points to lead his team.
Score: 58 to 49 (Suns)
Quarter: 28 to 22 (Suns)
The Pistons tied the game at 31 after two free throws from backup forward Saddiq Bey and a layup from starting guard Jaden Ivey. But the Suns found a groove afterward.
The quarter was low-scoring throughout – Phoenix led it 19-17 with 3:53 in the period – but the Suns found control with a 49-43 lead with 4:30 left in the quarter after a 3-pointer from starting forward Cam Johnson.
Phoenix proceeded to close the quarter strongly. Ayton, who had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, had six of the Suns’ last nine points of the half with two free throws, a dunk and a mid-range shot.
Bridges, who had 11 points at halftime, closed the second quarter with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Suns a 58-49 lead at halftime.
Here were the first half stats:
Score: 88 to 76 (Suns
Quarter: 30 to 27 (Suns)
The Suns had a chance to blow the game open in the third quarter, when they started it on an 8-0 run that gave them a 66-49 lead.
Ayton started the period with the dunk and Johnson had the next six points, including a 3-pointer that forced a Pistons timeout.
Johnson had a poster dunk out of the timeout and Phoenix once again extended its lead to 16 points, 73-57, after a jumper and a pull-up 3-pointer from Bridges. Detroit cut into the lead after with an 8-0 run.
Score: 116 to 100 (Suns)
Quarter: 28 to 24 (Suns)
Phoenix put the game away and never saw its lead fall below 11 points.
The Suns had an impressive stretch (mentioned above) when Bridges had a 3-pointer, an and-one and then Johnson hit a 3-pointer to give them what was their largest lead of the game (18 points).