PHOENIX (AP) Chris Paul has been to the All-Star Game 11 times in his NBA career and – barring a mammoth snub – is headed there for No. 12 next month.
Now coach Monty Williams will get to join him for the first time.
The NBA-leading Suns became the first team in the league with 40 wins – against only nine losses. The victory ensured that Phoenix will have the best record in the Western Conference at the All-Star break, which means Williams and his staff get to lead Team LeBron in Cleveland on Feb. 20.
Paul said getting Williams the All-Star head coaching honor has been top of mind for the players over the past week or two.
”Over the course of the long season, there’s nothing wrong with having a little benchmark, a little goal,” Paul said. ”I’m just happy for Monty, happy for our staff. That’s cool.”
Booker hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the fourth to turn a two-point deficit into a 112-108 lead with 1:18 left. He finished 12 of 24 from the field, going 4 of 9 from 3-point range.
The Spurs took a 91-79 lead into the final quarter, but the Suns erased that advantage in less than 3 1/2 minutes. They used a 14-point run – highlighted by Cam Johnson’s powerful one-handed jam – to take a 96-93 lead.
The game stayed tight from that point forward until Booker’s two big shots pushed the Suns ahead for good. Booker didn’t have a particularly great shooting game until that point, but was clutch when needed.
”I just know he’s not afraid to take the shot,” Williams said.
Paul had another huge game with 20 points, 19 assists and eight rebounds, just two nights after he had his 18th career triple-double. Bridges shot 11 of 16 from the field.
Williams said he appreciated how his players wanted him to receive the All-Star honor.
”It’s a huge blessing to be in this position where you can be the caretaker of an organization and represent the city, the team, your family,” Williams said. ”I’m mindful of all the sacrifices that people make so I can be in this position. It’s a team effort for sure.”
Doug McDermott led San Antonio with 24 points. Lonnie Walker IV added 22 off the bench.
JaVale McGee returned to the Suns after missing two games with left knee soreness. Starters Deandre Ayton (right ankle sprain) and Jae Crowder (left wrist contusion) and key backup Cameron Payne (right wrist sprain) remained out.
The Spurs were missing three starters, guards Derrick White (rest) and Dejounte Murray (left knee contusion) and forward Jakob Poeltl (low back soreness). Even so, San Antonio pushed the NBA’s best team until nearly the final buzzer.
”There was nobody that played badly,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”They played together, we were physical, we had great pace. They played with confidence against a hell of a team. Sure, I want fewer mistakes and I want a win, but it is hard to ask for more than what they gave tonight.”
San Antonio shot 54% in the first quarter to take a 31-23 lead and had a 55-50 advantage at halftime.
Tre Jones led the Spurs with 13 points before the break while McDermott added 12. Booker had 15 points for the Suns, who shot just 3 of 19 (15.8%) from 3-point range.
In the closing minutes, the Suns had an unfamiliar face on the floor – forward Ish Wainright.
The muscular 6-foot-5, 235-pound rookie finished with a career-high 10 points, including a bucket late in the fourth. He hit two 3-pointers, grabbed two rebounds and blocked two shots. Wainright’s received more playing time in recent weeks since the Suns have had several players out with injuries.
”It was fun, real fun,” Wainright said. ”To have a coach that trusts you every single game, that means a lot.”
Wainright has a football frame and played both basketball and football in college at Baylor. He finally broke into the NBA with the Suns this season at 27 years old.
Spurs: Guard Josh Primo, a rookie who recently turned 19 years old, finished with 13 points, which was two from his career high.
Suns: Hosted a sellout crowd at the Footprint Center for an 11th straight game. … F Bismack Biyombo had his 64th career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. … G Landry Shamet left the court in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury. He finished with three points in 17 minutes.
Spurs: Host Golden State on Monday night.
Suns: Host Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
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