PHOENIX (AP) Cam Johnson got past his defender and landed a nice one-handed dunk, thrilling a sold-out crowd and giving the Phoenix Suns a 20-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter of a 131-107 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Nothing changes the fact that the Bucks beat the Suns last year in the NBA Finals.
Still, there’s no doubt that Thursday night Phoenix felt great.
Deandre Ayton scored 27 points, Mikal Bridges added 18 and the Suns pushed their best NBA record to 45-10 in a rematch of last season’s title series. Chris Paul added 17 points and 19 assists while Devin Booker also scored 17 points.
“They’re the defending champions – we’re still hurting,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. ”But from a confidence point of view, for sure, it was a big game for us. I can admit it now.”
The game was close for most of the first half, but the Suns slowly retreated in the third quarter, building a 97-77 advantage going into the fourth. Ayton had an effective night, shooting 12 of 14 from the field on a variety of post moves and jumpers.
The Suns led by no less than 27 in the fourth and received a standing ovation from the home crowd in the final minutes as the starters left the game.
Paul finished with his 500th career double-double. He is only the fourth guard in NBA history to accomplish this feat.
“I’m grateful to still have the chance to play,” said Paul. ”And not just playing, but I feel like I’m playing at a high level every night. It’s cool.”
The Bucks went on a four-game winning streak. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 21 points apiece. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
“They came out and executed,” Holiday said. ”We missed a few shots. Our defense, I know my defense personally from the third quarter was really bad, really bad. They went out and took care of business.”
Phoenix has won 15 of its last 16 games.
The Suns used a 12-4 run to end the second quarter and take a 64-56 halftime lead. Ayton led Phoenix with 15 points before the break while Holiday had 17 points for the Bucks.
It was the first meeting between the teams since July 20, when the Bucks beat the Suns 105-98 in Milwaukee to win Game 6 and secure an NBA title. The Bucks have won the last four games of the series.
Bucks guard Pat Connaughton broke a finger in his right hand in the third quarter.
Coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed the injury after the game. Connaughton was injured when he fouled Paul on his way to the basket late in the third quarter. He immediately held his right hand – which is his shooting hand – and went out of play soon after.
Connaughton is one of the best reserves on the team and is averaging over 10 points per game.
Both teams were shorthanded due to trades made earlier in the day.
The Bucks acquired center Serge Ibaka, but he was not yet with the team. The roster had three more holes after guard Donte DiVincenzo was traded to the Kings and forwards Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye were sent to the Clippers.
The Suns added forward Torrey Craig and guard Aaron Holiday in the trades, but they hadn’t arrived in Phoenix. The Suns sold second-year forward Jalen Smith to the Pacers for Craig.
Bucks: Budenholzer said he hopes G George Hill (neck pain) can return soon. He said the team hasn’t decided whether to wait until after the all-star break to bring him back, giving him more time to rest.
Suns: Guards Cam Payne (sprained wrist) and Landry Shamet (sprained ankle) didn’t play. … Hosted a sold-out crowd at the Footprint Center for a 13th straight game. … Johnson scored 15 points off the bench. … Outscored Milwaukee 68-50 in the paint.
Bucks: Host the Trail Blazers on Monday.
Suns: organize the magic on Saturday.
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