After getting 30 fewer points than a week ago in Memphis, Phoenix, shorthand or not, needed to respond, win or lose, in the last regular season meeting Sunday against the healthy Grizzlies.
The Suns are still without Devin Booker (groin), Cameron Payne (foot) and Landry Shamet (foot), and DeAndre Ayton didn’t have a second straight game with a non-COVID illness, but Chris Paul is back after missing seven straight games with a sore right thigh.
With their veteran captain back, Phoenix built a huge lead before escaping a 112-110 win before pulling off a thrilling rally, but stressed 17,071 sellouts in the footprint position in the second of two consecutive touchdowns.
Up by as much as 29, Phoenix (24-24) saw its lead cut to two with 28.6 seconds remaining.
With the same slender advantage, Cam Johnson deflected the ball under trap pressure after receiving an inside pass near half court with 5.6 seconds left, but Dario Saric tracked the ball down to secure the two-point exhale.
Paul set the tone early with 15 points in the first quarter, hitting 3 of 4 of 3.
Finishing with 22 points and 11 assists for five turnovers in 38 minutes, the All-Star guard was sharp after sidelining seven games with a sore right groin. Michael Bridges scored 24 points for the Suns.
Ja Morant led the Grizzlies (31-15) with 27 points. Here are five quick points as Phoenix continues a five-game home run on Tuesday against Charlotte.
Memphis cut what was once a 27-point lead from Phoenix to seven with five minutes left.
There was plenty of time for the Grizzlies to pull this off, but the Suns answered with two big baskets from Jock Landale inside and bridged it 3-12 with 4:34 remaining.
Then as the shot clock expired and Phoenix put up a six, Cam Johnson nearly lost the ball under defensive pressure from Zaire Williams, tracked it down and hit a jumper over Desmond Bunny, who missed the shot.
Johnson hit the free throw. Sun until nine with 1:59 remaining.
Then, twice with 28.6 seconds remaining, Phoenix made enough of a play—and was lucky—to win.
Two weeks ago, they lost a match like this.
Paul is back with the change team
Monty Williams basically said after Phoenix lost 90-88 on Jan. 4 in Cleveland that the Suns looked for Paul to save them. Scored 25 points, eight assists, but played 40 minutes.
Two days later after a cross-country trip to end a six-game road trip, Paul went down with a groin injury in the first half of January 6 against Miami.
The Suns lost one and four of the next five, but they caught a few things.
They’ve gone from wondering why injuries keep playing through them and rediscovering their competitive edge, especially on the defensive side.
Bridges is improving as a first choice to the point that Williams does not want him to defer to Paul and Booker when they return. He posted a career-high five consecutive games with 20+ points.
Dario Saric and Jock Landale have a comfort zone.
And Saben Lee signed on for 10 days, a move that worked out better than they could have imagined. He played difficult minutes in Paul’s absence.
Three consecutive matches
Then they brought Johnson back on Thursday against Brooklyn.
Scored 19 after missing 37 games due to a torn right meniscus.
Josh Okoje returned Saturday against Indiana.
Scored 24 after missing Thursday’s game with a broken nose.
Suns won. repeatedly.
With back-to-back wins for the first time since last month, Phoenix has picked up the momentum, regained some of the swag – and now Paul’s back and ready to go?
The Suns won again with Paul setting the tone, but it was far from a one-man show.
Tore Craig scored 20 and Saric added 14 with the last two free throws to give Phoenix a four with 12.8 seconds left and Landell shot at 12 before missing. The Suns did the job defensively in the first half on Morant and Dillon Brooks.
At one point late in the first half, Morant and Brooks shot 2-of-13 from the field to total six points with 2:18 left in the second quarter — and Memphis was down by 27.
Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. each committed three fouls.
Just a big enough pillow
Memphis did not fold.
This team is very talented and proud to quit.
After beating Phoenix, 35-25, in the third, Zaire Williams hit a 71-foot home run at the buzzer to finish third and pull within 15 points for fourth.
The square was crowded. The Grizzlies had some momentum.
And Bridges clapped as he walked toward his head coach, showing off the bar that Williams has been complimenting lately.
The sun was not disturbed. Instead they responded.
Paul Jumper. Bridges 3.
Johnson is solid inside a bucket.
The Suns regained 19 points with 10:11 remaining.
Grizzlies time out.
They kept coming, but Phoenix created a pillow big enough to help fend off the Grizzlies.
Just big enough.
Grizzlies are not going anywhere
People will say Memphis deserves this loss.
The Grizzlies needed only a loss to get back to restart the drive that led to an 11-game winning streak. They came away with a one-point loss against the Lakers in a game they had to win.
They followed that up by falling by a count of 29 to the Suns, but responded the way a championship contender would.
This team is young, confident and cocky.
They’re not going anywhere either, and they should stay the same, but there’s nothing wrong with eating a humble little pie either.
Do you have an opinion about the current position of the sun? Contact Suns Insider Duane Rankin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @tweet.
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