Phoenix Suns stuff Celtics: the knee-jerk takeaways

Phoenix Suns surround Robert Williams of the Celtics (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns surround Robert Williams of the Celtics (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns’ Super Sunday victory was frustrating and exhilarating throughout.

They showed their crowd — yes, there were 1,500 invited healthcare workers in the arena — plenty of reasons to be upbeat as the Suns pursue their first playoff appearance in more than a decade.

Among the high points in the Phoenix Suns’ victory over the Boston Celtics were shortcomings to be addressed, some new and some familiar.

The turnovers: Although the Suns entered Sunday as the 12th-best for fewest turnovers per game (14), they threw it away seven times in the first half and allowed the Celtics to close to within 52-49.

Devin Booker committed three of those, but the chances he was taking also resulted in seven first-half assists.

The message was received at halftime, and Phoenix protected the ball in the third quarter, coughing it up only twice in the third quarter and once in the fourth. Booker had no second-half turnovers and ran his assists total to 11 for the game.

The Chris Paul-Devin Booker-Mikal Bridges effect: Not much needs to be added, but this trio of Suns stars continues to bring down the fans’ anxiety.

From Booker’s take-charge drives and clutch 3s to Paul’s playmaking and midrange strength to Bridges’ energy and willingness to drive into the lane to convert short jumpers, this group is now a reliable foundation around which peripheral Suns can thrive.

The Phoenix Suns’ biggest lightning rod is Deandre Ayton and his roller-coaster performances.

The Ayton softness meter: First, the progress this season has been as rapid as it has been surprising. Deandre Ayton’s learning curve may not be quick, but it’s trending in the right direction.

However, the past two games have seen disappointing results from Ayton on offense. The occasional regression in decision-making and positioning showed itself again when fumbles and brain cramps conspired against him.

While he reminds the media he’s always accepting of constructive criticism, he still fails to keep the ball high, latch onto a rebound and take the 5-footer instead of immediately kicking it back out.

His effective shooting range remains 17 feet and in, though he couldn’t help himself when wide open from 3-point range on Sunday. Ayton missed completely, wide left, with just under eight minutes remaining and a nine-point lead.

As the camera shot turned to coach Monty Williams, Suns play-by-play man Kevin Ray charitably offered that Williams “looked at Ayton and asked what the thought process there was.”

Analyst Ann Meyers Drysdale added, “I’m sure they’ll watch film.”

Ayton’s progress is uneven but there’s no doubt he’s improving. It’s tough to throw too much criticism on the NBA’s No. 4 rebounder.

The win over Boston, and it’s highs and lows, has the Valley of the Suns wondering what Phoenix fans believe are the biggest hurdles this team must overcome to reach the playoffs.

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