NEW ORLEANS - Devin Booker scored 33 points, Chris Paul added 11 points and 15 assists, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New Orleans Pelicans 123-110 on the night of Jan. 4.
Mikal Bridges added 23 points for Phoenix, which picked up its seventh win over the Pelicans in the last nine games. He and Cameron Johnson (18 points) both made five 3-pointers, while veteran center Bismack Biyombo shot 6 for 6 and scored 16.
Suns coach Monty Williams, who had missed the last four games after contracting COVID-19, said Paul was the key. The veteran point guard had five assists in the final 5:56, when the Suns sealed the victory with a 22-11 run.
"He was finding guys all night," Williams said. "He had that look in his eyes when I would call plays. He had a really good rhythm, and guys were knocking down shots. Chris was finding guys all night."
The Suns led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter but were up just 101-99 after Devonte’ Graham made his third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter with 6:21 left. But Booker’s 11 fourth-quarter points, most of which were set up by Paul’s deft ball-handling, blunted the rally.
The victory gave the Suns a 2-1 road trip.
"It comes down to making the right plays down the stretch," Booker said. "It was a good trip. It could have been a great trip. We have to improve to keep this train running."
Graham scored 28 points for New Orleans, which has lost four of five. Jonas Valanciunas finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds.
"We competed to the end, but Phoenix is the type of team that knows how to finish games," Graham said. "We didn’t get stops."
The Suns led by 13 points midway through the third quarter. The Pelicans used an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 74-69 before Phoenix continued its torrid perimeter shooting to lead 95-84 after three. The Suns made 13 of 24 3-pointers over three quarters.
The Suns made six of their first seven shots, with Booker assisting on four baskets, to build a 16-5 lead. Phoenix went 15 of 25 from the field on its way to a 42-31 first-quarter lead behind Booker’s 13 points.
The 42 points were the most allowed in any quarter this season by the Pelicans. The Suns were 5 of 10 from long range, with center Jalen Smith making both shots from long range. Smith left the game briefly early in the second quarter after taking an inadvertent elbow from Valanciunas, making the Suns even smaller.
"We got off to a slow start," Pelicans coach Willie Green said. "That first quarter, 42 points is way too many points. We have to be better defensively and be more sound with our communication, but our guys fought."
Suns: The Suns went 2-2 in Williams’ absence under lead assistant Kevin Young. "It bothered me like you can’t imagine not to be there," Williams said. "It did knock me on my butt for a few days, and that kind of surprised me. Typically, when I have a bad flu, I’ve always been able to function, but for about three or four days, man, I was totally toast." … The Suns played a small lineup without C Deandre Ayton, F Jae Crowder and C JaVale McGee, sidelined due to health and safety protocols. … The Suns’ 29-8 record tied for the team’s second-best start in franchise history through the first 37 games of a season (31-6 in 2004-05).
Pelicans: Pelicans rookie F Herb Jones, who normally draws the team’s toughest defensive assignment, is becoming known more widely for his shut-down ability. "In this league, you get thrown in the fire when you’re that good," Green said. "He’s going to continue to get better and learn. His progression from the start to now, it’s a huge jump." … Green says he is not worried about F Brandon Ingram, who went 5 for 18, including 0 for 4 from long range, and had five turnovers in his second game back from left Achilles soreness. "He’s still kicking some rust off," Green said. "Brandon will be fine."
Suns: Host the LA Clippers on Thursday.
Pelicans: Host the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.
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