Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton were all smiles at the postgame podium, reminiscing about a four-year turnaround for the Phoenix Suns that’s in some ways still hard to believe.
The Suns won just 19 games during their rookie seasons. Now, they’ve tied a franchise record with 17 wins — in a row.
Ayton scored 24 points, Chris Paul added 15 points and 11 assists, and the Suns won their 17th straight by beating the Golden State Warriors 104-96 on Tuesday night in an early showdown between the NBA’s top teams.
“It’s just a lot of work, a lot of mental toughness, staying with it,” Bridges said. “We knew when we first got here that we wanted to turn it around.”
The Suns won despite losing star guard Devin Booker to a left hamstring injury in the second quarter. He had 10 points and two rebounds in 15 minutes. The 25-year-old appeared to get hurt when driving to the basket for a layup, grabbing at the back of his left leg before walking to the locker room a few minutes before halftime.
Suns coach Monty Williams said postgame that he didn’t have an immediate update on Booker. The two-time All-Star came back to the bench for the second half, cheering on his teammates.
Even without Booker, the Suns led 56-54 at halftime and 80-78 going into the fourth quarter. The game stayed tight, and neither team led by double digits until Landry Shamet knocked down a 3-pointer — on an assist by Paul — with 54.4 seconds left.
“To me, this was just will and toughness,” Williams said.
The win was another milestone for the Suns, who have thrived with the young core of Ayton, Bridges and Booker. The final key piece came when they added Paul — an 11-time All-Star — before last season. Phoenix made the NBA Finals in July before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks, and now they’re on a winning streak that’s lasted more than month.
The two teams play again Friday night at Golden State.
Tuesday’s game was a highly anticipated showdown, as the Suns and Warriors have NBA’s best records. It was also the first time in league history that two teams from the same division played each other with winning percentages of .850 or higher after at least 20 regular-season games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The game mostly lived up to the hype — at least until the Warriors, who had their seven-game winning streak snapped, went cold in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Poole led Golden State with 28 points. Stephen Curry — who came into the game averaging 28.6 points per game — had 12 points on 4 of 21 shooting, including 3 of 14 from 3-point range.
“With all of the mistakes we did have and how terrible I shot the ball, it was a close game down the stretch,” Curry said. “I know Booker got hurt, but yes, it was a good learning lesson for us. Understanding the intensity and the focus we need to beat a team like that.”
The Suns limited the Warriors to just 42 points in the second half. The Warriors also had 22 turnovers.
The Suns and Warriors are now both 18-3. The only other time Phoenix has won 17 straight games was during the 2006-07 season. They’ll go for their franchise record 18th win against the Pistons on Thursday.
The Suns haven’t lost since Oct. 27 when Harrison Barnes hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer for the Sacramento Kings.
Williams got a technical foul in the fourth quarter when he ran onto the court following a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder. The triple had extended the Phoenix lead to 99-91 with only a few minutes remaining, so it was understandable why the coach would celebrate during the timeout.
The problem was Golden State coach Steve Kerr never called a time out.
Warriors: F Andre Iguadola (right knee), G Damion Lee (personal), G Klay Thompson (right Achilles recovery) and C James Wiseman (right knee recovery) didn’t play. … F Andrew Wiggins was bothered by back spasms earlier Tuesday but played. He finished with 10 points in 33:18 minutes. … The Warriors lost despite a 51-35 rebounding advantage and leading 40-14 on points in the paint.
Suns: F/C Frank Kaminsky (right knee), F Abdel Nader (right knee) and F Dario Saric (right knee) didn’t play. … Booker hasn’t missed a game this season. He was averaging nearly 24 points per game before Tuesday. … Cam Johnson started the second half for Booker and finished with 14 points. … Ayton finished 11 of 19 from the field and also had 11 rebounds.
Warriors: Host the Suns on Saturday.
Suns: Host the Pistons on Thursday night.