There are reasons that the Phoenix Suns have the second best record in the NBA this season. One of those reasons happens to be a future Hall of Famer.
Chris Paul made some huge plays down the stretch and scored the Suns’ final seven points as Phoenix ended the Knicks nine game win streak with a 118-110 win at the Garden last night.
The Knicks took the opening tip, jumped to a 20-7 lead and led 30-15 as the Suns quickly realized that coming to the Garden was not going to be an easy “W” anymore. Even though they had a big lead, the Knicks were committing some dumb fouls that allowed the Suns to hang around.
The Knicks shot 60% in the first half, yet they only led by seven at halftime. That would come back to haunt them in the second half.
The Knicks did not have an answer for the talented Devin Booker, who scored a game high 33 points, but it was Paul who delivered the daggers. Derrick Rose was the spark for the Knicks with 22 points and six assists off the bench.
The Suns did a good job on Julius Randle, who had a rare off night with 18 points on 6 of 17 shooting. “They played smaller on him,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said on the post game zoom. “They were coming on the pass to the double team and we can play off of that and we can get quality shots. The game tells you what shots you’re gonna get.”
Thanks to Rose, the Knicks were able to execute offensively in the first half, but the second half was a whole different ballgame. “We didn’t play as well as we could have in the second half, that being said, our guys have been fighting all year,” Thibodeau said.
Phoenix took their first lead, 95-94, with a little over 8 and half minutes left in the fourth quarter and they would never trail from that point on.
With five minutes left, Phoenix led 106-98 and it appeared at that point that the winning streak was over, but, to their credit, the Knicks never quit. With just under two minutes left, R.J. Barrett, who had an up and down night, made a driving lay up to cut the Suns’ lead to 111-107.
On the ensuing possession, Booker missed a short jumper, but Deandre Ayton grabbed a huge offensive rebound. “We had two guys converge on that rebound, popped loose,” Thibodeau said. That second chance led to Paul’s jumper with Reggie Bullock all over him and the 24-second clock winding down to make it a six point game. Thibodeau deferred to the greatness of Paul when he said, “I thought we had pretty good defense on Chris, he made a tough shot. You tip your hat but we gotta get going again.”
Randle hit a three to narrow the gap but Paul scored the next five points, including a three with just under 15 seconds remaining.
The Knicks went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the NBA, but it was the little things that really cost them. The stat sheet was fairly even, except for two categories. Phoenix had a 16-4 edge in fast break points and a 6-1 advantage in blocked shots. “Ayton puts pressure on you going to the rim,” Thibodeau said.
Barrett scored 17 and came alive in the fourth quarter but he couldn’t finish on a couple of drives to the hoop. Bullock got in early foul trouble but he canned some huge three pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 17.
How the Knicks respond after having the win streak snapped will tell a lot about the legitimacy of this team. “We gotta have amnesia, we gotta have a sense of urgency when we go out and play, who ever we play next,” Rose said. That would be the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night in the final game of this home stand.
After that, it’s a huge six game road trip that takes them to Houston, Memphis, Denver, Phoenix, and Los Angeles for games against the Clippers and Lakers. They’ll finish the season with a three game home stand against the Spurs, Hornets and Celtics.
The Knicks are in a dogfight to finish at least sixth in the conference and avoid the play in tournament. We’ll know a lot more about this team in the next two weeks.