The Phoenix Suns raced to the best record in the NBA with Chris Paul at the helm, but of course were dealt a blow when he injured himself before the All-Star break. However, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because the Suns are being forced to learn how to win without their stars. Aside from Paul, Devin Booker has also recently missed a few games, and Cam Johnson, who had a career high 38 points last week, is also now out with a quadriceps injury.
Yet somehow, through that, the Suns have managed to maintain a respectable 5-3 record, which also has allowed them to keep a stranglehold on the top seed thanks to the Golden State Warriors dropping five games in a row before finally beating the Clippers.
The key to their success has been their ‘next man up’ mentality, which continues to show itself in the face of adversity. In a much-anticipated showdown with the Miami Heat, who were at the top of the Eastern Conference and had previously blown out the full-strength Suns early in the season, the Suns were not bothered and raced to a 111-90 victory in South Beach. They were a massive underdog heading into the game, largely because many people thought Devin Booker wasn’t going to play, but he ended up getting on a plane after clearing health and safety protocols.
The game didn’t even start well for Phoenix, who fell behind by 11 in the first quarter before roaring back to take a small lead in the second, and then taking over in the third quarter. That quarter was when they made their big run, and where they had a bit of a scare when Cam Payne tweaked his ankle, but he came back in the fourth quarter to make some big plays.
Their team-first mentality was on display again, as they spread the scoring and assisted on 27 of 45 made baskets. Booker led the way with 23 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, two steals, two blocks, and two turnovers. His plus/minus for the game was +31. He was also a pest on the defensive end.
De’Andre Ayton had his customary double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Mikal Bridges continues to show he was worth the giant pay check after contributing 21 points and nine rebounds on 9 of 13 shooting.
JaVale McGee was also a force from the bench, finishing with 11 points and a game-leading 15 rebounds. Hell, he even hit a beautiful turnaround jumper.
We’re so far removed from that 8-0 bubble run now and it’s clear that the Suns are no joke. Scarily enough, they’re still getting better as a team. Getting a bit more time to gel together without Paul is only going to make them deadlier. Winning the second game of a back-to-back against the first seed in the competitive Eastern Conference is no joke, and Phoenix deserve credit for the effort that they put in.