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Phoenix Suns: Look back at near collapse at OKC, ahead to matchup at Cleveland

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 6 days ago Duane Rankin, Arizona Republic

Chris Paul has been here and done this before.

Finishing a regular season. Gearing up for the postseason.

A large chunk of the current Phoenix Suns haven't.

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So while there is cause for concern after surrendering 20 points in the final 4:36 of Sunday's 123-120 win at Oklahoma City, which was coming off a brutal 152-95 loss to Indiana the night before, the Suns (46-18) still won their fourth straight game. 

Devin Booker on a court: May 2, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) goes to the basket in front of Oklahoma City Thunder center Isaiah Roby (22) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports © Alonzo Adams, Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports May 2, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) goes to the basket in front of Oklahoma City Thunder center Isaiah Roby (22) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

"It is what it is at this point in the season trying to pile up wins," the 16-year veteran and 11-time All-Star said. "Wasn't our prettiest game. Wasn't the prettiest finish. Those guys are pros just like us. We knew they were going to come out with a lot of pride after that game last night. Got the win and we're going to move on." 

Chris Paul holding a football ball: May 2, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives down the court around Oklahoma City Thunder forward Gabriel Deck (6) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports © Alonzo Adams, Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports May 2, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives down the court around Oklahoma City Thunder forward Gabriel Deck (6) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Booker didn't digest the win like Paul in the sense that he sees this being a recurring trend of playing down to the level of competition, but expects the Suns to once again "respond better" in their next game.

That "next game" is Tuesday at Cleveland (21-43).

"We've just got to come out and be us," Suns guard Jevon Carter said. "Play Suns basketball. We do that, we'll be fine. We let little stuff creep in there that shouldn't be in there, but if we just play our basketball and just be us, we'll be fine." 

Here's a look back at Sunday's slim victory to begin a three-game road trip and ahead to Tuesday's matchup against the Cavaliers in the first of a back-to-back.

The Suns conclude the trip Wednesday at Atlanta before returning home to face New York on Friday. 

Player of  Sunday's game: Devin Booker

He played five seasons without a peep for a weekly player of the week honor.

Now Booker has achieved it three times in his sixth NBA season as the league named him the Western Conference Player of the Week for April 26 through May 2.

Averaging 29.3 points on 54.7% shooting from the field in leading Phoenix to a 4-0 record, Booker was the only player in the West to average at least 29 points while shooting better than 53% for the week.

The two-time All-Star dropped a game-high 32 in Sunday's win at Oklahoma City. He added six assists, did turn the ball over four times, but chipped in two steals.

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Booker joins fellow All-Stars Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks) and Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets) as the only players to win Western Conference Player of the Week three times this season.

In addition, Booker is the first Phoenix player to win three conference player of the week honors in a season since Steve Nash did it three times in 2006-07.

May 2, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) lines up his three point shot as Oklahoma City Thunder center Tony Bradley (13) looks on during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports © Alonzo Adams, Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports May 2, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) lines up his three point shot as Oklahoma City Thunder center Tony Bradley (13) looks on during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

'He knows'

While Booker led the Suns in scoring, he was one of five starters to reach double figures as Phoenix was without Jae Crowder (ankle) and Cameron Payne (ankle).

  • Chris Paul: 18 points, 11 assists, four turnovers.
  • Torrey Craig: 18 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks
  • Mikal Bridges: 17 points (3-of-8 from 3).
  • Cam Johnson: 12 points (2-of-6 from 3).

With Phoenix minus a starter in Crowder and a key reserve in Payne, one might expect Deandre Ayton to be on that list.

He was far from it.

Scoring just five points, Ayton took just three shots from the field (made one) and committed five fouls.

"He knows that for us to be the team that we know we can be, he has to impose his force on the game," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "Regardless of the foul trouble, he has great talent and ability and he's raised his own bar. So the expectations are always going to be high for him, and that's a good thing. He understands what's expected of him and how hard it is to do it every night, and that's OK." 

Beyond his lack of offense, Ayton seemed out of sorts on defense as Oklahoma City scored 58 points in the paint. Ayton did register three blocks, but often found himself out of position in reacting to the Thunder's dribble penetration.

Ayton has failed to score in double figures in three of his last four games. He had just five points on 2-of-8 shooting in last week's win over the Los Angeles Clippers that clinched a playoff spot for Phoenix for the first time since 2010.

During that game, Ayton said Booker told him this is what playoff basketball is going to be like and urged him to keep attacking and stay aggressive.

Ayton, who battled through a recurring left shoulder injury in Friday's victory agaisnt Utah, lacked aggressiveness Sunday night.

Two more

The Suns entered the second half of the shortened 72-game regular season with nine back-to-backs awaiting them.

They're 9-5 through the first seven. 

  • March 18-19: L, 123-119 vs. Minnesota, W, 113-101 vs. Minnesota.
  • March 23-24: W, 110-100 at Miami, L, 112-111 at Orlando.
  • March 30-31: W, 117-110 vs. Atlanta, W, 121-116 vs. Chicago.
  • April 7-8:  W, 117-113 (OT) vs. Utah, L, 113-103 at L.A. Clippers.
  • April 12-13: W, 126-120 vs. Houston, W, 106-86 vs. Miami.
  • April 21-22: W, 116-113 at Philadelphia, L, 99-86 at Boston.
  • April 25-26: L, 128-119 at Brooklyn, W, 118-110 at New York.

Phoenix starts its eighth one Tuesday at Cleveland and concludes it Wednesday at Atlanta (35-30). The Suns close the regular season with its ninth and final back-to-back March 15-16 at San Antonio.

Focusing on the first opponent of this upcoming back-to-back, the Cavs have lost six in a row with Miami handing them their latest defeat, 124-107, Saturday.

"I thought the guys that played gave us what they had," said Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff after Saturday's loss. "They competed, they shared the ball. Again, there are no moral victories, but laying a foundation of how we want to play with those two things, I think we did that and that's what we kind of have to hang our hat on right now with the limited bodies is whether or not we're playing the game the right way. Whether or not we're taking game plan and executing." 

Atlanta should present a greater challenge as Trae Young is back from a left ankle sprain that sidelined him four games. He scored 32 and 33 points in his first two games back on 19-of-33 shooting (6-of-14 from 3).

Phoenix limited Young to 5-of-16 shooting (1-of-4 from 3) in its win March 30 over the Hawks, who were in the closing stages of a seven-game road trip with the first six out West against the Lakers, Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Jazz, Nuggets and Suns.

Atlanta finished it with an overtime win at San Antonio to go 3-4 on that trip.

The Hawks are battling New York for that fourth seed to have homecourt advantage in the first round in the East and trying to avoid the play-in tournament, in which the seventh through 10th seeds compete for the final two playoff spots in each conference.

The four and seven seeds are within three games of each other in the East.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Suns: Look back at near collapse at OKC, ahead to matchup at Cleveland

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