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 number 12 next month.
Now coach Monty Williams will get to join him for the first time.
Devin Booker scored 28 points, Mikal Bridges added a season-high 26 and the Phoenix Suns overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the San Antonio Spurs 115-110 on Sunday night.
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 February 20.
Paul said getting Williams the All-Star head coaching honour 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.
Booker hit back-to-back three-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 three-point range.
The Spurs took a 91-79 lead into the final quarter, but the Suns erased that advantage in less than four 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 honour.
“It’s a huge blessing to be in this position where you can be the caretaker of an organisation 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. 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 per cent 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 three of 19 from three-point range.
In the closing minutes, the Suns had an unfamiliar face on the floor — forward Ish Wainright.
The muscular six-foot-five, 235-pound rookie finished with a career-high 10 points, including a bucket late in the fourth.
He hit two three-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 an American 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.