PHOENIX — It’s not a reliable long-term formula, but for now, the Phoenix Suns keep winning after turning it on in the fourth quarter.
The acquired skill is one they deserve a lot of credit for being able to reliably turn to while they remain working toward reaching last year’s very high standard of play. Everyone can agree they are not yet in the form they found last season, and yet, here they sit with a 12-3 record.
“Regardless, strength of schedule (or) whatnot, we’ve been down going into a lot of fourth quarters so I think what makes it nice this year is the experiences we went through last year,” point guard Chris Paul said.
Friday’s 112-104 win over the Dallas Mavericks was Phoenix’s 11th straight, and a 33-20 final frame with a 21-4 run was the difference after an uneven first three periods.
Phoenix was playing a Dallas team without star guard Luka Doncic (knee/ankle) again, and played a pretty decent first half to lead by four. A bit more clean play and the Suns would have been up double digits, all despite Devin Booker shooting 3-of-12.
They played like they knew that to open the second half, as there was an evident lull in energy, and the Mavericks were ready to take advantage of it. A 33-24 Dallas edge put it up five, benefitting from 16 points off 12 Suns turnovers.
The quest for a full, complete two-way effort in four quarters for Phoenix goes on.
“I just didn’t think the ball movement was where it needed to be in the third,” head coach Monty Williams said. “We were in sometimes one-pass, one-action shot scenarios.”
The Suns’ bench, though, continued its strong play from the first half to the second in the fourth quarter, giving the starters a solid base to finish off the game.
Cam Johnson hit a 3, JaVale McGee got a dunk and Landry Shamet drilled his own trey ball before a Paul midrange jumper quickly had Phoenix back in front by three, with Dallas’ only points coming courtesy of a long 2 from Trey Burke.
Following another Paul middy, Shamet played terrific defense at the rim, grabbed the rebound and then ran it up to the floor to find an open Jae Crowder for a triple that added up to a 15-2 spurt across the quarter’s first 4:31.
That was the counter shot that wobbled Dallas, and back-to-back pull-up buckets for Paul, a Booker block and then a Booker 3 was the knockout blow to create a 13-point cushion that would hold.
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“You could kind of feel the momentum in the building and it was pretty fun for us to be able to play off of our defense that way,” Williams said.
Paul finished with eight of his 18 points and six of his 14 assists in the fourth quarter while Booker was 4-of-8 in the second half for 13 of his 19 points.
Mikal Bridges made all seven of his shot attempts for 19 points, with 17 of those coming in a first half when the Suns needed it. Deandre Ayton grabbed 17 rebounds and scored eight points.
The bench had three players in double figures and produced 43 points as a whole. Johnson’s 13 points, Shamet’s six and Cam Payne’s 10 were three good performances for a trio that is still looking for some consistency 15 games in, an encouraging development. McGee was as present as ever in the flow of the game with 14 points and six rebounds.
“I’ve been on them lately about either sustaining or increasing the momentum,” Williams said of the bench. “I thought they increased tonight.”
Phoenix shot 51.8% from the field and 48.3% at range, a kind bounce-back evening of shooting after two brutal ones in the last two wins.