Booker, bench lead Suns past skidding Jazz as Ayton returns
SALT LAKE CITY - Devin Booker scored 24 points and Phoenix reserves sparked the decisive run for the Suns in a 117-103 win over the fading Utah Jazz on March 27.
"Our bench came in and changed the dynamic of the game from a physicality standpoint, getting stops. That allowed us to get out in transition," Phoenix coach Monty Williams said.
Deandre Ayton had 14 points after missing four games with a bruised hip. But a trio off the bench was pivotal for Phoenix: Terrence Ross had 13 points, Cameron Payne added 12 and Bismack Biyombo scored 11. They helped the Suns to a 57-25 advantage in bench points.
"The bench is starting to come together. We are getting a better rhythm and groove, and when we come into the game we’re bringing a different level of energy," Ross said.
The Suns (40-35) had lost four in a row on the road. But with this victory, they sit more securely in the fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race — which would give them home-court advantage in the first round.
Lauri Markkanen scored 25 points for Utah but shot 6 of 22.
"Rough shooting night. I thought I was getting good looks. Didn’t fall tonight," Markkanen said.
Walker Kessler had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Jazz (35-40), who have lost four straight. Kessler also matched a career high with seven blocks.
"We could not throw the ball in the ocean for long stretches of time," Utah coach Will Hardy said. "That can wear on you as a team."
To get injured star Kevin Durant in a midseason trade, the Suns sacrificed some of their depth and have struggled at times — especially on defense — when their starters sit. But this game was different against the undermanned Jazz.
"If we’re going to get to where we want, it’s going to be different people every night," star guard Chris Paul said. "We need that confidence going into the playoffs."
Phoenix went on a 17-2 run bridging the third and fourth quarters, primarily with its backups on the court. The Jazz led 81-78 before Payne and Ross combined for 11 points, and Payne capped the surge with a driving layup with 8:59 remaining to make it 95-83.
"When we are getting stops and pushing the pace, it is really hard to guard us. We just didn’t want to let them get their defense set," Payne said.
By the time Booker, Ayton and Paul returned with 4:58 to play, Phoenix still had a double-digit lead and coasted home.
"It’s big for our confidence when we leave a game and it’s near even and then (the reserves) go up 10-15 points while we’re out," Booker said. "It’s nice."
ON THE MEND
Williams said Durant, who has missed 10 games with a sprained ankle, might be ready to return on Wednesday — but it’s up to the training staff.
"He has been working his tail off. He’s done everything possible to get himself back as close as he can to game shape," said Williams, who added it all depends on Durant’s evaluation when the team gets back to Phoenix.
Suns: Made 20 of 22 free throws. … Booker scored 18 points in the first quarter and then went 0 for 5 with no points in the second. ... Phoenix had a 57-52 lead at halftime after outscoring the Jazz 13-0 in points off turnovers.
Jazz: Talen Horton-Tucker had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists along a with a bevy of forced shots and turnovers. … Simone Fontecchio, who has started the last three games, was out with a sore toe. … Jordan Clarkson (thumb) and Collin Sexton (hamstring), two of Utah’s top three scorers, have missed the past 10 games.
Suns: Host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
Jazz: At the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.