The Phoenix Suns have produced a remarkable season already but still have plenty to play for in the last two games of the regular season when they face the Spurs on Saturday afternoon in the first of a back-to-back in San Antonio.
The Suns (49-21) are focused on earning the top-seed in the Western Conference. Phoenix is a game behind Utah for the conference lead with two final regular-season games to play and own the tiebreaker with the Jazz should the teams be tied after Sunday.
The Suns retained that hope with their Thursday night victory over Portland. It took a pair of free throws by Devin Booker with 2.4 seconds remaining to lift the Suns to the 118-117 victory at home.
Chris Paul paced Phoenix with 26 points in the win as seven Suns’ players scored in double figures. Cameron Payne and Mikal Bridges added 21 points each, with Bridges also grabbing 11 rebounds. The Suns snapped a two-game losing streak and played without Deandre Ayton, who missed his first game of the season with a sore left knee.
Booker ended up with 18 points and was just 5 of 17 from the floor. Even with those shooting woes, there was little doubt Thursday about who was going to take the final shot for the Suns.
“It takes mental toughness, stamina, all the things we talk about to make a play in those moments after you haven’t shot it well,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said about running the final play for Booker. “(Tough shooting games) happen, but the great ones have a short memory. I think he knew I was going to come to him in that moment, and he produced.”
The Suns need one victory to reach 50 for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, which was also the last time Phoenix reached the playoffs.
“I’m more concerned with how we play than the seeding, and I’m going to stick to that,” Williams explained. “If we play the way we played tonight and get everybody healthy, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The Spurs (33-37) head home for the final two games of the regular season after a 102-98 loss at New York on Thursday. San Antonio has dropped its past two games, going 0-2 in its annual trip to the Big Apple which, after falling 128-116 at Brooklyn on Wednesday.
DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs with 27 points in Thursday’s loss, a game they led by 17 points in the third quarter before New York rallied to deny San Antonio’s bid to clinch the 10th spot in the standings. Later in the evening the Spurs backed into a guaranteed spot in the play-in tournament when Sacramento lost at Memphis.
“It’s frustrating losing the way we lost,” DeRozan said afterward. “We wish we had done it with a win. Until we are able to gain that feeling and that confidence back, everybody is going to be on edge. You’re fighting for your life now. It’s really win or go home after these next two games.”
In battling Phoenix, the Spurs look to build some momentum for the play-in game and can be buoyed by the fact that they thrashed the Suns 111-85 on the road on April 17. San Antonio held Phoenix to its lowest scoring game of the season.
“We want to go into our play-in situation with a full head of steam,” Johnson said. “We’re just locked in and ready to get these next two games.”
–Field Level Media