'That's what I'm talking about': 5 takeaways as Deandre Ayton dominates Pistons in Suns' win

Devin Booker kept it 100% when talking about Deandre Ayton’s performance in Friday’s 108-102 win over Detroit before a sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Booker said nodding his head. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Ayton scored a season-high 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Suns (12-6) to a third straight victory. Booker chipped in 21 points, Cameron Payne rattled off a double-double with 16 points and 10 assists to two turnovers while Mikal Bridges added 15 points.

"We're just coming from Thanksgiving, first of all," said Ayton, who scored 10 in the first quarter on 5-of-6 shooting. "From shootaround, you could tell everyone was still recovering from Thanksgiving in a way. I am the anchor of this team, when it comes to energy and setting the tone of the environment, that is what you see. I just try my best to keep the energy alive from this morning to tonight. Just to make sure my guys are there and activated."

November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and center Deandre Ayton (22) celebrate a basket against the Pistons during a game at the Footprint Center.
November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and center Deandre Ayton (22) celebrate a basket against the Pistons during a game at the Footprint Center.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored a team-high 19 to lead the Pistons (5-16) in the final leg of their marathon six-game road trip.

Bogdanovic was helped off the court late in the game as Torrey Craig stepped on his ankle. Bridges gathered the ball and scored with Bogdanovic on the floor to put Phoenix up six, 106-100, with 24 seconds left.

“He stepped on my ankle, then my knee went inside, but it’s not bad," Bogdanovic said. "I thought it was worse. I will see how it feels tomorrow."

Here are five takeaways from Friday’s comeback win as the Suns conclude their four-game homestand Saturday against Utah in the second of back-to-back games.

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Bridges came alive in the third quarter

Bridges can’t remember if he ever missed his first nine shots in a game.

"Oh my God," Bridges said. "I don't know. I don't think so, but that was tough. It was sitting on me a little bit."

Suns coach Monty Williams isn’t sure Bridges would’ve kept shooting after starting a game 0-for-9.

Fortunately for the Suns, Bridges kept putting it up and awakened in the second half after going scoreless in the first half on 0-of-8 shooting (0-of-2 from 3). Bridges exploded for 13 points in the third quarter, going 3-of-4 from 3, as Phoenix took an 84-79 lead into the fourth after trailing by one at the half.

November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns wing Mikal Bridges (25) celebrates with Duane Washington Jr. (4) after a charge call against the Pistons during a game at the Footprint Center.
November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns wing Mikal Bridges (25) celebrates with Duane Washington Jr. (4) after a charge call against the Pistons during a game at the Footprint Center.

“We have a saying that ‘Reps remove doubt,’ Williams said. "When you work as hard as he does, there’s no reason to doubt the next shot. I’m just glad that he kept taking them. I think earlier in his career, if he were to have a night like that, he would have been a bit shy and we don’t encourage that. We have a let it fly mentality. It’s too hard in this league to get open looks and when you don’t take those shots, it breaks rhythm and you can’t offensive rebound the way you want to so I’m glad he kept taking shots.”

Before the game, Williams said Bridges "gets up a lot of shots now," in comparing his midrange to Glenn Robinson.

'That's such a Monty joke," Bridges said.

All jokes aside, without that performance in the third from Bridges, Phoenix loses this game.

"Tell him I washed my car

Without that performance, Phoenix loses this game.

Nov 25, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) slam dunks the ball against Detroit Pistons guard Rodney McGruder (17) in the first half at Footprint Center.
Nov 25, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) slam dunks the ball against Detroit Pistons guard Rodney McGruder (17) in the first half at Footprint Center.

Trending upward on the FT line

Ayton has gone from going three straight games without attempting a free throw to launching 15 in a four-game stretch.

He went 6-of-7 Friday night, both season highs.

This is without using “tricks” to get to the line as Ayton said or Williams drawing up plays for him.

"It hasn't been something schematic or something like, hey do this to get to the line," Williams said. "It's just happening as the game progresses."

November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) scores against Pistons wing Isaiah Livers (12) during a game at the Footprint Center.
November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) scores against Pistons wing Isaiah Livers (12) during a game at the Footprint Center.

Now Ayton is being more aggressive in the duck-ins. The left ankle is feeling better and he’s displaying a bit more patience in the paint, but Ayton still bounces around at times instead of firmly holding his post position.

“Using pump fakes, being patient under the rim," Ayton said. "Playing the dunker position and looking for opportunities to get offensive boards and going straight up and playing through contact. I am not a guy who out here using tricks to get to the line. I am just playing hard and playing with a little bit of smartness as well when it comes to getting people off their feet and getting to the line.”

Yes, he only has three seconds in the lane, but the more times he looks to score inside, the more seconds he’ll get in the paint.

That’s just how the NBA works. If Ayton continues to get to the line with regularity, he'll take that 16 to 17 points to 22 to 23 and become a first-time All-Star.

Nov 25, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne (15) celebrates against the Detroit Pistons in the second half at Footprint Center.
Nov 25, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne (15) celebrates against the Detroit Pistons in the second half at Footprint Center.

Point guard awareness

Cameron Payne’s film work with assistant coach Jarrett Jack continues to pay dividends.

It’s one thing to get an assist just by swinging the ball around the perimeter, but Payne found Ayton for finishes at the rim off dribble penetration.

"We actually watched the film from the game before Thanksgiving and I seen a lot of little things," said Payne about Tuesday's 115-105 win over the Lakers. "I came out and I was finding the pocket. That was one thing we talked about early this morning was find the pocket, find the bigs and he gave me 10 assists tonight.”

Payne already plays fast and downhill, hence the nickname Turbo.

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When you can do that, it makes the defense react. There are natural openings off that and now Payne is exploiting the defense on a more consistent basis with his passing.

“I think when he does that, we are more, I don’t want to say lethal, but it just adds another weapon to our team," Williams said. "I thought tonight, the times he went to score, those plays were called to pass to DA or to the shooters on the backside, but he saw an opening and he took advantage of it. I think that’s the balance that wewant him to have where he can have the play call, know the reads, but see something open and he just takes offand goes to make a play."

As great a player Chris Paul is, he's hardly played in the paint this season. The Suns are having him off the ball more. So if Payne can continue to drive, draw and find cutters and shooters, his value becomes even more important.

On a three-year, $19-million deal, Payne is 47th in the NBA in point guard contracts.

Just saying.

Nov 25, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes (right) moves the ball against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges in the first half at Footprint Center.
Nov 25, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes (right) moves the ball against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges in the first half at Footprint Center.

Pistons right there to the end

The 3-ball makes teams truly forget the situation sometimes.

Down 3 with 2:16 left, Bogdanovic and Alec Burks each took 3s, looking to tie the game.

November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Pistons wing Hamidou Diallo (6) dunks agianst Suns forward Torey Craig (0) during a game at the Footprint Center.
November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Pistons wing Hamidou Diallo (6) dunks agianst Suns forward Torey Craig (0) during a game at the Footprint Center.

Why not take the two, get a stop and then look to take the lead?

That’s just as demoralizing to a team as hitting a 3.

Then down six with 24 seconds left, Burks goes for two instead of a three.

They have a young team, but those are two veterans who could’ve made better decisions down the stretch.

“It’s tough," Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo. "Just to be in it and have the ability to close out games - we’re just going to keep getting better at that as the year goes on. Throughout this road trip we had some close games. Some of them we closed out, some of them we didn’t. Tonight was one of those nights. We have to keep getting better at execution and a couple little details.”

With all that being said, Detroit was down several players in the final game of a six-game West coast road trip and were right there to the end with the Suns.

“It’s not frustrating," Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. "It’s disappointing because the guys played their hearts out. They competed at a high level. We were short, we had one point guard basically which tells, what is it, 18 turnovers which broke our back. But I thought guys competed at a very high level defensively and offensively with one of the best teams in the league. It’s frustrating from that standpoint but it’s also growth. We have to look at it from a positive standpoint. We’re out four starters and the guys came in and did their job and really competed and I’m proud of them for that."

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Read more: Suns' Landry Shamet talks about his concussion, expected return vs. Jazz

Since Salt Lake City

The Suns haven’t lost since giving up 134 points in a one-point loss at Utah.

They’ve allowed an average of 100.6 points in their next three games which have all ended in wins.

“We owe them,” Ayton said.

The Suns have a chance to show how much they've grown defensively Saturday night and may have Paul (heel) and Landry Shamet (concussion protocols) back for the game.

Shamet will likely play. Paul is the mystery.

If he's a go, too, the Suns have no excuses as this will be the second of back-to-back games for Utah after playing at Golden State on Friday.

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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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 5 takeaways as Deandre Ayton dominates Pistons in Suns' 108-102 win