Suns hold out, win slugfest in Tampa Bay against Raptors


Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) celebrates with point guard Chris Paul (3) after making a basket against the Toronto Raptors during the second half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, March 26, 2021 in Tampa, Florida (AP Photo / Chris O’Meara)

The Phoenix Suns made key plays when they had to on Friday night, but they were lucky there wasn’t an extra minute or two left on the clock.

They got a 104-100 out against the Toronto Raptors thanks to decisive moments like the blocking of Deandre Ayton, the free throws of Chris Paul and Devin Booker and the offensive rebound of Mikal Bridges to secure the victory.

“Just a lot of huge, grueling plays tonight,” said head coach Monty Williams.

Phoenix needed them, though, because after Paul’s long range jumper with 6:18 left put the Suns up 98-88 with 6:18 left, the Suns scored six points for the rest of the game. game and only had one field goal. Paul and Booker combined to go 4 of 4 from the foul line in the final minute.

A game after a loss to the Orlando Magic in which the Suns posted 20 points in the fourth quarter was 21 on Friday.

“I liked everything until the fourth quarter,” Williams said of the offensive execution. “We scored 21 points, but [Toronto] he only scored 23 “.

Williams went on to describe a type of playoff basketball that erupted in that fourth quarter that he called “slugfest.”

One of the contributing factors was Booker’s funk in the last 12 minutes.

In a turn of events we haven’t seen from him in his young career thus far, Booker is 3-of-18 from the field in the final quarter of the last seven games. He was 0-for-4 against the Raptors and missed two shots with the Suns up by two with less than 70 seconds left.

That last failure was the one Bridges snatched with six seconds to go and then the Suns called a timeout. The inning went to Booker, who, to his credit, sank both free throws to seal it.

Booker is now shooting 39.9% in the final frame of the season and 30.4% in the clutch, also known as the last five minutes of a game when the score is within five points. He has proven his worth in Phoenix for six years as a key player, and when asked if he had noticed anything in particular in his movie in recent games, Booker said he hadn’t even realized it.

“The victories are coming,” he said. “That is the main objective every night. I’ve shown many years of scoring basketball, so whatever I have to do to win: defensive, offensive, leading by example, leading with voice. We have a selfless team. We can win by one point, we can win by 20, I’ll be happy anyway. “

And he’s been a very happy man this year, as the Suns improved to 30-14 with the win.

Booker finished with 16 points, six rebounds and two assists on 6 of 14 shooting. When Booker’s shot attempts and assists are combined to a number of 16, that’s the lowest in 24 games, a testament to Toronto head coach Nick Nurse’s game plan of limiting his impact on exercise. .

Until that point, Nurse cast a variety of defensive looks at the Suns. The basic principles greatly aided Booker in dribbling penetration to force Phoenix shooters to make plays and collapse on Ayton’s post touches once he dribbled the ball to force him to make decisions.

The Raptors won a championship because of their ability to do things like this as defense, like having defenders furthest from the action in the right places to help and then having the ability to fight back and recover from there. However, they are far from a championship-quality defense, and the Suns were routinely able to poke holes in them.

With that in mind, the Suns only shot 9 of 36 (25.0%) from three-point range, so part of Nurse’s plan was successful as well.

But Ayton didn’t bother that much, as he was assertive and acted like the biggest guy on the court, which he was. With Toronto getting small and putting the long, strong 6-foot-7 OG Anunoby on top of him, Ayton was 9 of 12 with 19 points and nine rebounds.

His defense continues to trend upward in the last half dozen games and is back on track with the level it played last year. That aforementioned block on Toronto’s Pascal Siakam was a great play with less than two minutes remaining:

Ayton attributed his technique to his hands and feet while saying that Williams has criticized him for it.

A solid first half from Paul and contributions from the entire bench helped the Suns get in position to win.

Paul finished the night with 19 points, six rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Langston Galloway (eight points), Cam Johnson (seven), Cam Payne (four) and Dario Saric (eight) made at least two field goals, while Johnson (three assists), Payne (two) and Torrey Craig (three) they combined for eight of the Suns’ 26 assists.

The Raptors’ biggest lead in the game was four points and they were trailing throughout the second half. Siakam performed well with 26 points and 11 rebounds, plus six assists.

As the Suns near the end of the four-game road trip with a Sunday matinee game in Charlotte against the Hornets, avoiding a losing streak over the last two and a half months yet again, even with the way the victory. Friday is always positive.

“I’d rather have an ugly win than a nice loss,” Williams said.

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