On the Lookout: Suns eyeing third straight win against Celtics

Published April 22, 2021, 4:00 PMMiguel Flores

Coming off back-to-back close wins, the Suns are hoping to continue their momentum against injury-riddled Celtics.

By the power of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Phoenix Suns are the second-best team in the NBA and have recently knocked off some of the best teams in the East on the road. They just wiggled past the Milwaukee Bucks before escaping Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Their road trip through the East's playoff-contender cities continues when they visit the Boston Celtics at 7:00 AM on NBA TV Philippines via Cignal TV or NBA.smart.

The Suns have won 13 of their last 15 games, including the aforementioned last two wins that were close until the end. A late Milwaukee foul allowed the Suns to escape in overtime. Against Philly, the Suns were nearly in for another overtime game. Luckily for them, Embiid didn't get to add three more points to his monstrous 38-point performance as his full-court heave was just a bit off.

It's in these high-wire, maximum pressure moments that the Suns have been most impressive. That does come with having Chris Paul, one of the most reliable endgame managers in the history of the league. Over their last 15 games, Paul is averaging nearly nine assists, while coughing up just around 1.5 turnovers per game. He's also been great at picking his spots with scoring, shooting 48 percent from the field in the same span while averaging 15.4 points.

Booker, at the same time, continues to be one of the smoothest scorers in the league. Sharing the ball with Paul has only opened more easy opportunities for Booker. He's averaging 25.4 points for the season, mostly dissecting teams with his elite midrange game and ability to get to the free throw line. When you’re going against the Suns in a close game, you're trying to stop Paul’s pick and roll plays while also trying to contain Booker's isolations. Not many teams have the personnel to consistently stop both.

Boston could possibly stop Phoenix's late surges. They have their own trusted closer in Jayson Tatum, who has been on fire recently with a five-game stretch averaging 34.2 points on 55 percent shooting with 8.8 rebounds. A lot has been said about Boston's recent resurgence, getting to sixth in the East standings. The Celtics have improved their ball movement and defense while getting a better feel of their rotation with more healthy players in their lineup. But most of their success has really boiled down to Tatum finding his shot.

Jaylen Brown has also low-key found his stroke over Boston's last six games, averaging 27.5 points on 58 percent shooting. Brown's two-way play may become more important tomorrow as Tatum is listed as probable after tweaking his ankle against Chicago. Brown, who is also listed as questionable due to a minor shoulder injury, has improved a lot this season with his individual scoring so a big game from him could be enough to topple Phoenix.

What Boston will find hard to match is Phoenix's supporting cast. From Mikal Bridges' freakish defensive play to Dario Saric chopping up second units with his playmaking from the post, Phoenix’s depth has saved them often this season. Boston doesn't have as many players off the bench that can keep up with Phoenix's Saric and Cam Payne’s assault off the bench. The best they could probably hope for is another scrappy effort from Payton Pritchard. Boston may not have any offensive off-the-bench player until Evan Fournier comes back.

Both teams also have big X-factors. Deandre Ayton has sacrificed a lot of touches this season to become a solid screener and offensive rebounder. He doesn’t always come up with big numbers, but against a thin Boston frontcourt, Ayton could dominate as he did recently against the Sacramento Kings when he posted 26 points and 11 rebounds.

Boston, on the other hand, has Kemba Walker. While he isn't quite Cardiac Kemba anymore, Walker, who is likely to play tomorrow after a non-COVID illness kept him out against Chicago, is still a threat to catch fire. He's looked more comfortable recently as he continues to recover from his knee operation. In a classic game against Golden State, Walker mustered 26 points and several crucial buckets to help quell Stephen Curry.

Boston desperately needs more wins as the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, and Miami Heat are all within one game of each other in the fourth to seventh spots. No one wants to have to go through the uncertainty of a play-in tournament. Phoenix, meanwhile, still has a shot at the best record in the league. Ending their playoff drought with a league-best regular season record would be special for a franchise hungry for success.

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