The Phoenix Suns won an impressive fifth game in a row on Wednesday night, outlasting the Golden State Warriors in a frantic and at times wildly entertaining affair. The final score reading 123-115 to the Suns, but that fails to tell the story of this absorbing contest.
The Suns somehow gave up 40 points in the fourth-quarter alone, most of which came against the Warriors’ second unit, but did just enough to hang on to beat the Warriors for the second time this season. Center Jusuf Nurkic got himself in foul trouble throughout, and played only 17 minutes as a result. Way down on the 27.5 he’s put up so far this season.
By far the biggest talking point of the game was former player Chris Paul getting ejected in the second-quarter, with Suns playing chiming in after the game.
Paul was given two technical fouls for what referee Scott Foster would later deem unsportsmanlike conduct, the latest chapter in a well-documented history between the two. Paul was coy in how he spoke to the media about it after the game, refusing to go into too much detail on his relationship with Foster.
Kevin Durant – who himself was given a technical in the fourth-quarter for throwing the ball against the stanchion – sensed that the conversation between player and referee was more than the usual dialogue that happens over the course of a game, no matter how heated or intense the occasion actually is.
"“I did see it coming (the technical foul). I looked up and they were talking for a little bit longer and I kind of felt like it wasn’t a warm exchange. After I seen a couple extra minutes of them talking I knew it was something different. I didn’t get to hear what was going on… we know the history that him and Scott (Foster) has.”"
Suns fans will be thankful that, after a rough start to the season, this was another key moment in a game that ultimately went their way. They’ve had some good fortune with referees recently, but on a broader scale, that doesn’t feel like the point. On another night – perhaps even a more important one in the postseason – this could have been the Suns on the end of this call.
Hard as it can be to separate the personal feelings towards somebody from the game you are trying to officiate fairly, the fact that even the Suns players acknowledged so openly that Paul’s previous run-ins with Foster contributed to the ejection is worrying. When asked about it, Josh Okogie, a teammate of Paul’s last season, did not mince his words.
Devin Booker – who appears to have a great relationship with Paul from their time together and who he has assumed the ball-handling and playmaking duties from this season – echoed the sentiments of Durant on the situation. Again, the history between the two was mentioned by Booker, who finished with a big 25 points and 10 assists for the Suns.
"“I saw one coming. I was standing right there. I couldn’t really hear the back and forth, but obviously there’s a history there. It escalated quick… I mean cause I’ve seen it closely too, long before Chris was in Phoenix. That’s some history that they might have to settle between themselves one day, when they’re both retired.”"
The ejection also cut short Paul’s first competitive game back in The Valley, a place where he will surely one day go into the organization’s Ring of Honor. There will be other matchups down the road, but after the victory over Deandre Ayton and the Portland Trail Blazers the night before, a bit more of Booker and Paul going at it would have been nice.
Instead fans saw the best and worst of the Suns as they are constructed right now, across a 48 minute stretch. Durant and Booker are 14-1 in the regular season in games played together, and they have the potential to take this group far. But giving up 40 points in a quarter and nearly letting a game like that slip is unacceptable. As for CP3 vs Foster – the story may not be done yet.