Suns recover from brutal start to get past shorthanded Pelicans – Arizona Sports

PHOENIX — There aren’t many wrong answers for how Phoenix Suns fans choose to digest the team’s 112-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans (1-7) Tuesday night.

On one hand, they started the game with terrible energy and execution, turning the ball over 14 times for 22 Pelicans points in the first half, going down as much as 20.

They played like they thought they could coast against New Orleans without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, but even against that, they can’t afford to given the current state they are in. The crowd knew it, with some light boos coming down in the second quarter.

On the other hand, it was a spirited Suns (3-3) comeback that was contributed to by a handful of players, including our first Point God sighting of the 2021-22 season.

Chris Paul was masterful in the second half, adjusting on the fly to every pick-and-roll coverage former teammate, Suns assistant and now head honcho of the Pelicans Willie Green threw at him.

“He’s seen everything,” head coach Monty Williams said of Paul. “That’s a luxury. There’s not a defense Chris hasn’t seen. Switching, blitzes, late blitzes that aren’t in pick-and-roll… Chris has seen a lot. It’s not anything I’m teaching, that’s for sure.”

After Paul only took two shots in the first half, Green, who Paul has said is like his brother, knew better than just about anyone that Paul was going to come out aggressive in the last two quarters.

To try and stop that, he had Paul blitzed as soon as a ball screen came, an even more immediate threat than what he was sending Paul’s way in the first half.

“It’s funny because me and Willie used to talk hoop all the time (and) I used to always say man, ‘If I played against me, I’d probably trap me,’” Paul said. “And sure enough he come out trapping.”

Paul found enough space, though, to get the ball to either Frank Kaminsky or JaVale McGee diving with Deandre Ayton sidelined due to a right leg contusion.

Those two took it from there, combining for 35 points, playing a part in Paul managing 18 assists in the game. A 17-9 run to close the first half got the Suns’ deficit down to 11 before that initial surge from Paul was a 14-6 spurt that had the Pelcians’ lead down to three midway through the third quarter.

After New Orleans got the advantage back up to nine points as Paul checked back in with under a minute to go until the fourth quarter, he dominated from there.

Green tried to switch to drop coverage and some less all-out looks, but Paul diced those up too, scoring or assisting 25 of the Suns’ 36 points in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans’ defense just kept making mistakes that bad young teams are prone to, resulting in great look after great look for Phoenix’s offense.

You know those types of losses where that change in effort comes up short because the team in the hole let the inferior one get rolling, and the opposition’s shots kept going down despite the extra gusto? That type of asking for trouble? This was not that.

The Suns’ tidal wave eventually drowned the Pelicans, who couldn’t get buckets to fight back, shooting 26.7% in the second half. That’s to be expected given they were missing their two best players and biggest offensive threats, and also lost starting rookie forward Herbert Jones in the second half due to a head injury.

Bump that shooting percentage to something just moderately poor like the high 30s and maybe the Suns don’t complete the comeback. Some credit, of course, should go to Phoenix’s defensive performance for that low mark as well.

Kaminsky was fantastic, playing perhaps his best complete game as a Sun. His defense on New Orleans’ Jonas Valanciunas made it so the Suns didn’t need to double, and offensively, he was the perfect partner for Paul, making the right decision at the free-throw line on short rolls 10 times out of 10 when Paul was trapped.

“If teams want to blitz Chris and put two on the ball, having a big that can playmake always helps out a lot,” Booker said of Kaminsky.

Kaminsky and Mikal Bridges’ energy in the first half gave the Suns enough to work with for the rest of the game, and they were ready to keep it up once their teammates got going.

Kaminsky finished with 18 points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals, a block and a plus-minus of +18.

Bridges was far and away the first player out of the locker room at halftime after, according to Paul, “Mont’ got on our ass.” Bridges said he was amped and got fired up from what Williams had to say, which certainly showed. He had a game-high +19 and team-high 22 points with only 57 seconds of rest in the second half, ending the night at 42 minutes.

Devin Booker started the game 3-of-16, getting super downhill and trigger happy with his shot as things started to spiral for the Suns early. While he couldn’t shoot them out of it and also committed six turnovers in the process, he didn’t stop competing defensively or for loose balls.

And as the saying goes that he used after the game, “the ball found energy.” He shot 4-of-4 in the fourth quarter for nine of his 18 points.

“Devin and I have been in so many situations now, it’s like I don’t even worry about it,” Williams said. “He’s a guy that I’m willing to lose with … I don’t even think about it.”

McGee is going to continue to be an unpredictable thrill ride where it’s mostly brainfarts or awesomeness with little in-between until he figures out the Suns’ tempo on both ends. He was a mess in the first half but eventually powered through to an impactful second half and a final line of 18 points, five rebounds, a block and four turnovers.

Paul ended up at 36 minutes, with Williams playing him the last 12:45 of the game. The coach said earlier in the year he wants to try and limit the nights like Tuesday where he exerts Paul to that level, but Paul was back to his Point God self and who knows what would have happened if he got his usual mini rest around the six-or-seven-minute mark.

The 36-year-old produced 14 points, seven rebounds, 18 assists and four turnovers on 6-of-8 shooting. Paul’s seventh assist of the night had him pass Mark Jackson for fourth on the all-time assist leaderboards, and his next dime put him above Suns Ring of Honor member Steve Nash for third.

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