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Phoenix Suns: Look back at romp over Jazz, ahead to matchup at Oklahoma City

After defeating the L.A. Clippers to clinch a playoff spot and Utah, Phoenix begins a three-game road trip starting Sunday at Oklahoma City.

Devin Booker didn't know the capacity limit for home games at Phoenix Suns Arena amid COVID-19 pandemic, but he's sensing more people are in the building.

"I feel like it's going up and up every single game," he said after Friday night's 121-100 win over the short-handed Utah Jazz before a season-high 6,065 fans.

When learning the current limit is "5,500-plus," Booker said it feels like "nine or 10 in there" meaning 9,000 to 10,000 fans.

"I'm cool with it, though," Booker said. "Get 'em in there."

The Suns (45-18) will likely increase their capacity for the postseason. Whether they reach 10K in the $230-million renovated arena remains to be seen, but Friday's win completed an impressive and historic three-game stretch for Phoenix after last week's loss at East-leading Brooklyn (43-21). 

Phoenix beat New York in the second of a back-to-back Monday conclude a week-long, five-game road trip out East.

Two days later, the Suns topped the Los Angeles Clippers to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2010 and secure a top-six spot to avoid the play-in tournament for the seventh though 10th seeds to play for the final two playoff spots in each conference.

"It's really special," Suns center Deandre Ayton said. "With a new team like like this, I didn't really expect us to really be in this situation. Not to say that my expectations were less. This is a new team and we're just going to get in our groove somehow, but it's right in front of us and it's ours for the taking. We've just got to remain locked in and keep winning and keep chipping at it everyday because the playoffs is a whole new level." 

Then on Friday, they beat the NBA's top team by 21 points to sweep their three-game season series against the Jazz.

Apr 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) pressures Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

The Clippers and Jazz were both without All-Stars.

Kawhi Leonard sat with a foot injury. Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Mike Conley (ankle) didn't play either, but Phoenix seized the moment to top two of the NBA's top four teams.

"It's a tough game to play in emotionally when you're ramped up to play against the best team in the league and they sit a few guys," Suns coach Monty Williams said after Fridays' win. "Sometimes you can have an emotional letdown. We took care of business tonight."

The Suns will now follow that win up with a three-game road trip as seven of their last regular-season games are away from home. Here's a look back at Friday's victory and ahead to Sunday's matchup at Oklahoma City in Chris Paul's return to OKC where he led the Thunder to the playoffs in his one season there last year. 

Player of Friday's game: Devin Booker
Apr 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) talks to forward Torrey Craig (12) against the Utah Jazz in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

Mikal Bridges had one of the halves.

Scoring 13 points in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting, Bridges hit 3-of-4 shots from 3, had three steals and two blocks in 16 minutes.

Bridges finished with 18 points with two coming on a two-handed lob dunk off Paul pass.

"Usually it's kind of a kick-ahead (pass from Paul), but that time, we had an opportunity to play 2-on-1 and go get it," Bridges said. "He did a great thing for me." 

As good as Bridges played, Booker scored a game-high 31 in 29 minutes with 14 coming in the first quarter in leading Phoenix to a 39-23 advantage.

The two-time All-Star only had two assists, but Paul made up for it with nine.

Booker committed just one turnover, though. That's just as big for Phoenix as Booker is averaging 3.2 a game this season.

Apr 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) reacts after making contact against the Utah Jazz in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic
Shouldering the pain

The Suns had six players score in double figures with one being Ayton, who posted 11 points and nine rebounds, but there's something bigger happening with him right now.

Ayton re-aggravated his left shoulder that he first hurt in a collision with James Johnson during a game at Dallas back in January.

He played through it late in Phoenix's overtime win April 19 at Milwaukee, but called to come out of the first quarter of Friday's game after hurting it.

Immediately grabbing at his shoulder, Ayton left the game wincing in pain, worked on it and returned later in the quarter.

"It looked like he had that same stinger again," Williams said. "A few minutes later, he was ready to come back in the game. That was pretty cool to watch." 

Apr 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) returns to the game against the Utah Jazz in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

Ayton received cheers when checking back into the game.

The cheers increased in volume after he scored inside while being fouled on the play, but there is cause for concern with his shoulder for many reasons.

One, he's their starting center who rebounds, defends, sets screens, creates open 3s when diving to the rim and can score.

Two, Phoenix doesn't have another big who can do all those things at that level.

Frank Kaminsky has been solid back in the rotation, Dario Saric returned from his ankle injury, but Ayton's health is pivotal for the Suns heading into the postseason. 

Apr 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) against the Utah Jazz in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic
Back to OKC

When Oklahoma City traded away its best player ever next to Kevin Durant in Russell Westbrook to Houston and Paul George, one of the game's best players, to the Clippers before the 2019-20 season, Chris Paul was on the other side of the story.

Didn't feel like a good one for the Thunder at the time.

The veteran guard wasn't expected to embrace being part of a rebuild, but Paul took on the challenge and led the youthful Thunder to the playoffs.

The season was a surprisingly special one that saw Paul return to the All-Star game, but he looked to continue his career elsewhere.

The Thunder obliged, traded him to Phoenix for four players with two being starters in Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ricky Rubio, along with a future first-round pick.

Not considered a 100% slam dunk when considering Paul's age of 35 and going into this 16th NBA season, but the Suns are definitely getting the better end of the deal.

Apr 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) and center Deandre Ayton (22) pressures Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) in the first half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic
Thunder rough road

Phoenix has the league's top record going into Saturday's games with Paul being the biggest reason why the Suns have emphatically squashed their 11-year playoff drought.

Not only did Paul make his 11th All-Star appearance, he's a rising NBA MVP candidate.

Now he's returning to Oklahoma City with one of the league's top teams that beat the Thunder by 37 points the last time they faced each other April 2 in Phoenix.

The Thunder are 20-plus games below .500.

Their best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has only played 35 games this season as he's been sidelined with a foot injury. 

Mark Daigneault is going through his first season as head coach amid COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted their season.

Sunday's game will be the second of a back-to-back for the Thunder as they face Indiana at home Saturday.

Just another obstacle Oklahoma City must overcome to beat Paul and the Suns. 

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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