PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns didn’t do much to lose Sunday’s 116-95 win over the New York Knicks, and sometimes that’s enough.
Phoenix (10-6) started the game 21-11 against a Knicks (8-9) team that was disorganized and lacked defensive drive. However, neither team found much consistency over the next two quarters and the Knicks managed to lose just two at halftime.
The first team to put together a real run would control procedure, and it was two assists from Devin Booker plus a 3 that gave the Suns an 8-0 run over 65 seconds midway through the third quarter at 11.
Later in the quarter, booker and reserve guard Duane Washington Jr., two Grand Rapids, Michigan products, knocked down consecutive triples to extend it to 17. Phoenix shot 11 of 21 (52.4%) from 3-point range in the second half and beat the Knicks 35-22 in the third quarter.
“Just get out, transition, play our kind of basketball,” Booker said of what clicked in those 12 minutes.
The Suns didn’t look back, and the Knicks didn’t do much to pressure them, a team looking all sorts of blah by 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, which inspires this quality of basketball more often than traditional starts.
The contest was the third in a row that Phoenix had all five of its starters in double figures. It’s a great sign that the elite team game is still in strong form for the past two years, as the Suns were without Chris Paul (right heel pain), Cam Johnson (torn meniscus) and Landry Shamet (concussion record).
It’s also a nod to guys like Torrey Craig (14 points), Mikal Bridges (13) and Cam Payne (21) who have built some consistency in the scoring department. Even if it’s just a dozen here and a dozen there, that’s enough to replace being without a primary option like Paul, if everyone does it.
Craig has tied a career-long four-game streak with at least 10 points. It helped make him shatter the offensive glass more. Craig shoots the ball across the open space around the free throw line with a lot of consistency and has developed a feel for where he has good opportunities to attack the rim from there.
Speaking of offensive rebounding, the Suns capitalized on something they certainly picked up on when scouting the Knicks by sending even more bodies on shot attempts. Someone like Booker rarely goes in, but he messed it up just like the bigger wings usually do. Eight Suns players had an offensive rebound for a total of 21, resulting in 19 second chance points.
Ayton grabbed four of his 11 rebounds there. After a disheartening run of form over the past two weeks, he was back to the level of aggression he needs to have at all times. Ayton used his dribbling in a more proactive way, scoring a best five free throw attempts of the season, along with 13 points and four assists.
Booker ended up with 20 points in just 29 minutes. Excluding Paul and Johnson, Booker had averaged 38.4 minutes per game over the past five games. And Bridges, who closed at 33 on Sunday, was even higher at 39.5. Head coach Monty Williams said before the game that he was paying close attention to Booker’s number. And that number doesn’t even adequately represent how much of the offensive load he’s currently taking on.
Payne’s team-best 21 points and nine assists continued his tremendous game this season.
“I feel like I’m just out there longer, you can see the whole game as I play,” Payne said. “You see the whole game instead of just a part. Like 12 minutes. So being out there on the ground and overcoming mistakes definitely helped me.”
That he and Craig are playing more like they did two years ago than they did last year makes a world of difference.