Phoenix Suns standout Devin Booker missed his second consecutive game on Thursday night, this one against a Golden State Warriors team that was 10-8 entering this one.
Who would step up to help the Suns snap out of their recent malaise?
It took a team effort — including plenty of help from the bench — to put away Golden State 114-93 and snap a three-game losing skid.
The Suns matched a season high with 34 assists, established a season high with 57 rebounds and allowed us to unpack three main takeaways.
Phoenix Suns takeaway No. 1: The Suns found help from the ones, twos and threes.
Following a huge effort in a Wednesday loss to the Denver Nuggets, point guard Chris Paul was perhaps the Suns’ most important player again on Thursday. Paul played 27 minutes, setting tone and directing the offense to the tune of 13 points and a game-high plus-27 in the box score.
Paul opened the scoring with a tear-drop runner reminiscent of Steve Nash, and then adroitly found Deandre Ayton three feet from the basket for an easy jump hook and a 4-0 lead.
Without his steadying influence, the Suns could well have been buried by the second quarter. But they do have him, and the trade that cost the Suns Kelly Oubre Jr., among others, isn’t controversial.
Oubre Jr. hit one of his 11 field-goal attempts for Golden State.
The triumvirate of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and … wait for it … Abdel Nader certainly served its purpose.
Bridges, whose consistent defense and reliable off-the-ball cuts to the basket have become a Suns staple, showed again why he’s virtually indispensable when Booker is sidelined.
Bridges’ defense on Steph Curry wasn’t perfect — turns out the Warriors guard is going to be a pretty decent player — but that defense kept Curry from being a game-changer. The NBA’s No. 2 all-time 3-point shooter connected on “only” five of his 10 attempts from long range, and he finished 10 of 20 overall while producing a minus-23 for Golden State.
Cam Johnson’s early 3, which gave Phoenix a 7-0 lead, helped secure a spot in the minds of Warriors players and coaches for the rest of the night.
The glue on Thursday, though, was probably Nader, who put up a game-high 16 shots, finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in 25 impactful minutes. He could well be someone in whom coach Monty Williams will invest some faith over the next couple of months.
Phoenix Suns takeaway No. 2: Jae Crowder flexed vision, defense and scoring ability.
Talk about a Chris Paul-like steadying influence. Forward Jae Crowder has not lost a step since helping the surprising Miami Heat to within a couple of heartbeats of an NBA title last season.
At 6 feet 6, Crowder employed his trademark defense and also put up per-game averages of12.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists during the playoff run.
On Thursday, he played 29 minutes (at a +20), scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
He put the clamps on perennial pest Draymond Green early in the game, ensuring Green would not have much to say in the outcome. And Green, with two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 25 minutes of action (if you want to call it that), had virtually no impact.
Crowder is not just a guy who shows up every once in a while and contributes. His energy, effort and efficiency have easily hit the relatively high bar for the Suns’ expectations when they committed to a three-year, $30 million deal in the offseason.
Phoenix Suns takeaway No. 3: Deandre Ayton and Frank Kaminsky (yep) proved a frightening combination for the Warriors to fight.
The Phoenix Suns’ physical center put his stamp on the victory over the Warriors. The nice thing about that statement is that it could describe Deandre Ayton as well as Frank Kaminsky.
Ayton had all 12 of his points and 11 of his 13 rebounds by halftime, showing how his aggressive attitude is a must-have these days.
Kaminsky took the reins and put in a season-best performance that allowed Phoenix to pull away — and keep Ayton resting throughout the fourth quarter.
The Suns don’t ask Kaminsky to do too much, but even those pedestrian expectations had not been met consistently this season.
Thursday was different.
Kaminsky seemed to gain confidence by the minute, riding his shooting stroke and a couple of generous bounces of the ball to a stat line of 12 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high eight assists.
For one night, Suns fans must have felt good about the center position — and not having to hope rookie Jalen Smith will be ready to contribute meaningful minutes later this season. The Ayton-Kaminsky combination was responsible for 24 points, 26 rebounds and 12 assists in 47 minutes.
Almost as important was the defense on the Warriors’ centers. Starter Kevon Looney and first-rounder James Wiseman combined for seven points on 3-for-11 shooting and 10 rebounds.
All good, for one night, in Suns land — with the return of Devin Booker a possibility for Saturday in Dallas.