Deandre Ayton didn’t get the start.
The Phoenix Suns started slow.
Oklahoma City led by 15 points early, but the Suns surged back to remain undefeated in seeding games, winning, 128-101, Monday at The Field House in the Orlando Bubble.
Phoenix is now 6-0 in seeding games in the NBA restart.
All-Star Devin Booker scored 35 points in three quarters to tie Walter Davis for most 30-point games in Suns history with 90 as the Suns (32-39) are now a game behind Memphis (8th place) and just a half game behind ninth-place Portland.
Ayton didn’t get the start as he missed Sunday’s COVID-19 testing window. He took the test Monday morning, was cleared and was riding the bike behind the bench in the first quarter before checking into the game to start the second quarter.
“I’ve said from Day 1, we’ve had to navigate uncertainty,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Getting tested every day is just different for us. I find myself, I’ll test in the morning and we’ll get to about four or five o’clock and I’ll ask myself questions. Did I test? You just get confused by it and I know I’m not the only one that’s done that.”
Booker said after the game he thought Ayton had taken the test Sunday, but it must have been after the window.
Starting the second half, Ayton finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.The second-year center wasn’t made available for Zoom media interviews after the game.
“We’ve said in an NBA season, guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams continued. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional and thankfully he was able to get tested early enough to get the results back so he could come and play. The guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human. We have to be better. We know that, but he’s not only one that’s done since we’ve been here. It just happens.”
The Suns (32-39) led by as many as 29 in winning their sixth consecutive game, the longest winning streak since the 2014-15 season .
Phoenix will face Philadelphia (42-28) at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the second of a back-to-back at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex’s Visa Athletic Center. The Suns defeated the 76ers during the regular season.
Philadelphia will be without All-Star Ben Simmons, who left the bubble to have knee surgery. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will be part of Tuesday’s Second Screen Experience Virtual Fan Party.
For more info or to RSVP, visit Suns.com/SecondScreen.
The Suns confirmed that Ayton missed a COVID-19 testing window Sunday, tested Monday morning and was cleared to join the team.
Ayton appeared to make his way to the Suns bench at some point in the first quarter as Dario Saric got the start for him. Ayton started the second quarter, the second half and played a total of 17 minutes and five seconds.
Booker said it’s a “trek” from the hotel room to the testing room. Since Ayton was made available for Zoom media interviews, he wasn’t able to give his side of the story.
The Suns ended up having a slow start against an Thunder (43-27) team that had five key players out.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (right calf contusion).
- Danilo Gallinari (left ankle injury maintenance).
- Dennis Schroder (personal reasons).
- Steven Adams (left lower leg contusion).
- Nerlens Noel (right ankle sprain).
The Suns stormed back with a 42-point second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at the half.
Phoenix limited Oklahoma City to 17 points in the third quarter to take an 98-81 lead going into the fourth.
What’s the playoff situation
With the win, Phoenix jumped San Antonio into 10th place and are just a game behind eighth-place Memphis and a half game behind ninth-place Portland.
If the Suns win their final two seeding games, they’ll need Memphis and Portland to split their final two to get ninth place for a play-in tournament against the Grizzlies.
Then they’d have to beat Memphis twice to earn the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
If the Suns finish 1-1, Memphis could drop its last two and have the same record, but the Grizzlies have the head-to-head tiebreaker edge.
That leaves Portland and San Antonio.
If Phoenix finishes 1-1, the Blazers would have to lose their final two and the Spurs would need to lose one of their last two for the Suns to make the play-in.
Player of the game: Devin Booker
He was hitting shots from the logo at midcourt.
“I was telling the guys on the team I was open,” Booker said.
“Naugh, I’m just messing with you (laughing), but it was a late shot clock and just had to get one on the rim,” Booker said.
That how good it was going for him Monday morning.
Booker shot 9-of-17 from the field, 3-of-7 from 3 and 14-of-14 from the line. He added five rebounds, four assists and two blocked.
Turned the ball over four times, but Booker is one of the scoring zones. He’s averaging 30.3 points a game on 61-of-121 shooting (50.4%).
What went well/who played well
Phoenix caught fire from 3 in hitting 17-of-34 from distance. The Suns scored 40 points in the paint and raced out to 23 fast break points.
After that slow first quarter, Phoenix gained control with that 42-point second quarter. The Suns shot 56.5% from the field, 6-of-11 from 3 and 10-of-10 from the line.
Cam Johnson went bonkers for 13 points in the quarter, hitting 3-of-5 from 3. That move to put him the starting lineup is paying big dividends for the Suns.
Finishing with 18, Johnson was one of six Suns to reach double figures.
Finally, by building a big lead, Phoenix rested Booker, Ayton, Rubio and other key guys in the fourth quarter.
That may prove to be beneficial for the Suns in their second of back-to-back games Tuesday against the Sixers.
What didn’t/who didn’t play well
The first quarter was a embarrassing one, especially when Oklahoma City was missing key guys. Then there’s Ayton not being available because of the testing issue.
Fair or not, stuff like that brings back memories of him missing 25 games after the season opener for testing positive for a diuretic. Don’t know what happened, but anytime something like this happens, he’ll give people ammunition to question is maturity.
Just turned 22 July 23, but more is expected of him.
Beyond that, Phoenix finished with 20 total turnovers. Ricky Rubio and Booker, their two primary ball handlers, each had four.
Then there’s Frank Kaminsky III.
Trying not to harp on this too much, but with Baynes not playing and Saric seeing meaningful minutes, Kaminsky hasn’t been that third big Phoenix could use.
He hasn’t delivered in seeding games as he didn’t score and only took one shot.
The Suns will play the second of a back-to-back Tuesday. Key guys got rest in the fourth Monday, but the games can catch up with even a young team. Phoenix may need Kaminsky to play more than the 3:28 he did against the Thunder.
Who’s still hot from 3
After shooting 6-of-8 on 3s in Saturday’s win over Miami, Jevon Carter followed that up with a 2-for-3 effort from deep in scoring eight points off the bench.
Carter wound up playing 37 minutes as he added five rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks and one turnover.
Didn’t have a 20-piece, but Carter made his mark. He led the team in plus/minus with a plus-26. Just to put that in perspective, Booker, the 35-point man, was a plus-15.
Aron Baynes (right knee contusion) and Elie Okobo (right ankle sprain) were once again ruled out of Monday’s game while Kelly Oubre Jr. (right knee rehab) remains listed as doubtful.
Williams didn’t have an update for Baynes or Oubre Jr. as he said they’ve been just shooting in practice.
Again, unless Phoenix makes the playoffs, can’t see those three playing in the bubble. The Suns will play the second of a back-to-back Tuesday and have their eighth and final seeding game Thursday against Dallas.
Who said that
“What’s working for us is we’ve committed to a style of play. We’ve been able to adapt to different situations. Obviously being in this bubble has been like two training camps for us to be able to have a couple weeks of practice and then games against the best teams in the league – and we haven’t accomplished anything. May sound like coach speak, but we dug ourselves a whole with our record. We scraped all year long, we won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle for us and we’ve done a good job getting to this point and no one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here. We’re thankful that, but we haven’t accomplished anything as far as the main goal. Everybody is trying to get to the playoffs. We just said we’re going to take it one step at a time.” – Suns coach Monty Williams.
“You have to control uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, just overall, this format, as a whole, is something we’ve never seen before. So we’re focused on ourselves with the next man up mentality.” – Suns All-Star Devin Booker.
“We have now an opportunity. Coming here, our chances were like 0.01 or something like that (to make playoffs). Now we are here and we have like a bigger chance. Obviously, other teams are there. Since they opened the gym, we’ve been working hard. Seven or eight guys was every day there (at the Madhouse on McDowell) like six times a week. We’re lifting and shooting. We were hungry, you know, to prove we’re all quality. And now (we’ve won) six games. In practice, you can see this is a quality team. A really good team that competes every game, even every practice.” – Suns forward Dario Saric.
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