Suns outlast Jazz in ‘real intense’ matchup of NBA’s top teams

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PHOENIX — Deandre Ayton kept bouncing up and down in the lane, tipping rebounds off missed shots to his Phoenix teammates on the perimeter. Devin Booker wasn’t having a great night shooting, but kept chucking the ball toward the rim anyway.

Then there’s Chris Paul, the Suns’ veteran point guard who is a constant whirlwind of discussion and dribbling that never stops.

“Teams struggle with our energy,” Ayton said.

On a night that the Suns were far from perfect, that energy carried them to yet another win. Booker scored 35 points, Paul added 29 and Phoenix beat the Utah Jazz 117-113 in overtime Wednesday night in an entertaining matchup between the top two teams in the NBA.

The Suns scored the first five points in overtime and never trailed again. Booker had a couple of clutch mid-range jumpers to keep the Jazz behind and Paul made a 3-pointer with a minute left that pushed Phoenix ahead 114-108.

Utah pulled to 114-112 on Mike Conley’s layup with 21 seconds left, but could never tie it. Paul hit two free throws with 7.8 seconds left to finally seal it and wrap up the season series with a game left. Phoenix has won seven in a row.

“It was real intense,” Booker said. “I thought both teams played hard, defended really well.”

The Suns pushed ahead 100-96 in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder with two minutes left. Donovan Mitchell made a contested 3-pointer with 10.4 seconds left for Utah to tie it at 102.

Booker’s 3 at the buzzer was off the mark. If the Suns were deflated, they didn’t show it.

“That’s just part of the game,” Suns forward Cameron Johnson said. “We’ve seen crazier things. We had to get ready in overtime and get back after them.”

Said Paul: “I think we did a good job of weathering the storm.”

Mitchell led Utah with 41 points. Bojan Bogdanovic added 20 points, and Rudy Gobert had 16 points and 18 rebounds.

“We know what we can be,” Mitchell said. “We know we have work to do as well.”

The Jazz bounced back from an 11-point halftime deficit to take a 78-77 lead going into the fourth quarter after Mike Conley rattled home a jumper at the buzzer. It was a bruising game and the Suns had a 61-45 rebounding advantage that helped them win despite a mediocre shooting night.

Ayton added 18 points and 12 rebounds. Johnson had 11 points and made 3 of 5 3-pointers off the bench.

“With games like this, we really get a chance to show our depth,” Paul said.

Utah scored just one basket in the first five minutes, giving Phoenix time to build a 13-2 lead. The Jazz recovered quickly, jumping ahead 21-20 at the end of the first quarter.

But the Suns had another push in the second, building a 51-40 halftime advantage.

SURPRISING TOP TWO

It was a matchup between two unexpected Western Conference heavyweights that have played even better than expected so far this season. The Jazz lead NBA at 38-13, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Suns (36-14).

Both teams have taken advantage of relatively good health while rivals — like the L.A. Lakers and LeBron James — have dealt with injuries to key players.

The Suns are trying to stop a playoff drought that’s lasted more than a decade. Phoenix has beaten Utah twice this season, which clinches the three-game season series in case of a tie in the standings.

PACK ’EM IN

The Suns raised the crowd capacity to 5,500 fans for the first time this season. That’s about 30% of the 18,000-plus seats at newly-renovated Phoenix Suns Arena.

“It sounded like a full house,” Ayton said.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Utah had won nine straight games before having its streak snapped on Monday in a loss to Dallas.

Suns: F Abdel Nader (right knee soreness) was unavailable and has missed the past eight games. Recently-acquired Torrey Craig has taken most of the playing time with Nader unavailable.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Host Portland on Thursday night.

Suns: At Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.