By Kellan Olson
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns shoots over Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the fourth quarter of an NBA game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Phoenix Suns win the game 132 – 114. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
That is how Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams described his team’s play through three quarters in New Orleans on Friday against the Pelicans.
Thanks to some stellar three-point shooting, the Suns were able to hang around, but they were down 11 through three quarters. It felt like the floodgates were about to burst.
And, uh, they did.
But not exactly in the way you would have expected.
The Suns went on to win the game by 18 and a score of 132-114.
That sound you just heard was the multiple people falling out of their chair reading that who, rightfully so, turned this game off through 36 minutes.
Yes, that same game ended with the Suns outscoring the Pelicans 41-12 in the fourth quarter.
It’s clear what changed. Why did it? Not so clear. That’s as the sports go sometimes, I guess.
Regardless, the Suns were mostly lifeless on defense, putting forth one of their worst overall team efforts. They made 15 of their first 27 shots from deep (55.5%) and it was really all that was keeping them in it, outside of a focused effort by Chris Paul.
Then, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, an energized start by Paul, Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder provided signs of life and a reminder that it was very much a game.
Paul was already locked in, so with the momentum of the game finally back up for grabs, he snatched it with ruthless precision.
You know that part in a movie where there are people at sea trying to survive through a storm, and then there’s a closeup on the main protagonist with a stunned look on their face going, “My god…” before cutting to a wave coming at them the size of North Dakota?
That was the Pelicans in the first couple minutes of the fourth seeing the Point God.
Paul’s bonkers pull-up from the right wing was the early dagger. It put the Suns up 11 midway through the fourth and on a 27-5 run to open the quarter.
“That’s just being in those situations over and over again … gotta get a shot off,” Paul said. “So, side-step to the right, let it ride.”
Paul clarified after the game he said, “I know this place,” with New Orleans serving as his home for four of his first six NBA seasons.
In the fourth quarter alone, Paul had five points and seven assists. He finished with 15 points and 19 assists. He became the first NBA player this season to clock at least 19 in a game.
“He’s orchestrating out there,” Suns guard Devin Booker said of Paul. “He knows what’s going on before it even happens. With him, the game’s never over until the horn sounds. He did a good job of leading us, keeping our composure throughout the whole game, and then that fourth quarter was a work of art.”
Crowder was a staggering plus-30 in the fourth quarter, a section of the game that he hit four of his six three-pointers in. He scored 20 points overall.
In that fourth, Ayton got into one of those zones again where he was impacting nearly every play. We never know when we’re going to see that guy, but when we do, it sure is a treat.
Ayton’s opening three-and-a-half minutes were the primary reason why Paul was in a position to take the game over.
The pattern is never obvious in terms of when Ayton shows up like that. He was not rolling in this game. His good individual defense on Zion Williamson kept him from being a big negative overall through three quarters.
Williams stuck with Ayton through a clear disconnected effort during Tuesday’s rough loss to the Brooklyn Nets, assumingly to show his young center that he will keep playing through mistakes.
At a certain point on Friday, however, the third quarter gaffes felt like it might be time to sit Ayton down for a bit and look elsewhere. And to be clear, that would be the case with most young players looking out of sync, and is not just a specific thing with only Ayton.
But Williams stayed loyal with the big fella again, and it paid off big-time. Both the coach and especially the player deserve credit for that.
“He plays on both ends of the floor,” Williams said of Ayton. “Defensively, he was sound for sure and a star in moments, but when he’s able to put pressure on the rim and generate shots — Jae and Cam (Johnson) and Chris don’t get those shots without DA putting pressure on the rim. It was either give up the 3 or DA at the rim, so that’s the sacrifice that he makes when he dives to the basket. It’s just good for him to have those moments because I know it gives him confidence.
“Everybody on our team roots for DA. They hear all the narratives around his name and we value what he does for us on both ends of the floor.”
Ayton recorded 16 points and 16 rebounds.
Speaking of that defense on Williamson, that matchup had Frank Kaminsky back in the starting lineup for the Suns. Kaminsky could take the big body of Willy Hernangomez, who started in place of the injured Steven Adams, while Ayton defended Williamson.
Kaminsky once again played well, hitting five three-pointers toward a season-high 17 points.
E’Twaun Moore had another good stretch off the bench, adding seven points. Johnson provided 13 more and played a role in that fourth quarter of destruction.
The Suns (18-10) tied a franchise record with 22 three-pointers.
Williamson ended up with 23 points while the Pelicans’ (12-17) Brandon Ingram had 25. Those two caused consistent issues that plagued Phoenix for most of the game. Williams said he tweaked some things to limit Ingram in the fourth but was once again quick to credit his players having “the will and effort” to execute it at that high of a level.
“That’s the resiliency and the relentless play that we’ve talked about that we have to have,” Williams said of the win overall. “It wasn’t going our way pretty much the whole game. You could just feel it was a bit funky.”