Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) is pressured by New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, May 7, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
PHOENIX — Chris Paul said after the Phoenix Suns’ 128-105 win over the New York Knicks that nothing gets you ready for the postseason until you’ve been there.
He also said that you need a certain amount of trust to beat teams like the Knicks that make every game feel like it’s the playoffs.
Time after time, the Suns have proven they have that collective trust with each other, and Friday was no different.
The Knicks made the game ugly in the first half by forcing select Suns players to take a majority of the shots, putting Phoenix in a seven-point hole at halftime. Chris Paul and Devin Booker were both in single digits while the Suns as a team were shooting 6-of-21 from three-point range.
The Knicks’ Derrick Rose had 14 points and five assists. Julius Randle added 17. The Suns didn’t have much of an answer for either.
But after the Knicks led 88-81 late in the third quarter, a ludicrous 9-0 run completely shifted all the momentum to the Suns. Torrey Craig got a putback with 0.8 seconds left, and somehow, Cameron Payne intercepted the inbounds pass and scored.
The Suns’ ball-handlers never stopped finding open teammates all game long, but in the closing act of the game, those players started hitting shots. Phoenix converted on nine 3s in the last 12:31 of the game.
To go back to that third quarter, in the middle of it was Paul finding much more of a rhythm in breaking down the Knicks’ defense, and he took it up a notch after a key moment in the fourth.
After the Suns were already up 11 with 7:33 left, Knicks veteran center Taj Gibson got a Flagrant 1 on Paul in the backcourt, bumping him down after a rebound in which Paul was under Gibson.
Paul immediately shot up and started jawing at Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.
“Some things happened on the floor that got Chris going, and a lot of players can’t play in that environment (but) Chris thrives in it,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said.
Paul spent the next few minutes cementing a Phoenix win while talking to any Knick within distance, whether they were engaging with him or not.
The Point God wouldn’t describe himself as pissed off or angry afterward and also said he and Gibson cleared the air after.
“It’s all good. Some things was said,” Paul said. “It is what it is in the heat of the game … men can talk about things and move on.”
Paul had 12 of his 17 points and seven of his 11 assists in the second half.
His setup man most of the night was Deandre Ayton, who had a game-high 26 points and 15 rebounds. This was the game you thought about in terms of Paul getting the best out of Ayton back when the trade for Paul first went down.
Jae Crowder hit six 3s in his first game back of the last nine due to a right ankle sprain, while Mikal Bridges drilled four triples and Payne had three more. Booker got up to 16 points thanks to determined downhill drives that had him go 9-of-9 from the foul line. That helped alleviate a 3-of-12 shooting night.
On the other end, the Suns trapped Rose better and held him to only three points and one assist in the second half. By default, this made Phoenix’s defense scramble a bit more to shooters, and that seemed to wake it up a bit to start defending with more energy. Randle’s touches got lost through that and the Suns scoring more. He finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
All told, it was a 72-42 thrashing in the second half by the Suns.
“That was just a desperate effort by our basketball team in the second half,” Williams said. “When we play like that, with the competitive guys that we have, we can be hard to deal with.”