BROOKLYN — The nearly five-hour trip from New York to Phoenix will be one of the most satisfying flights in Suns recent history.
The Suns not only won their 16th consecutive game Saturday night in beating the East’s top team, Brooklyn, 113-107, but they did so 24 hours after blasting the Knicks by 21 points at Madison Square Garden to complete a four-game road trip.
In the borough that produced the “best rapper alive” in 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jay-Z and the late great, Notorious B.I.G., Phoenix pulled within one victory of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins as they led Brooklyn by as many as 20 and never trailed.
And the Suns (17-3) did it inside Barclays Center before a sellout crowd of 18,071 against Nets coach Steve Nash, who was part of the Suns’ longest win streak of 17 in the 2006-07 season.
Just like Friday night, Devin Booker set the tone from the start in scoring 16 points of his team-high 30 in the first quarter.
Chris Paul hit big shots in delivering 22 points and Mikal Bridges made an even stronger early case for all-defensive team for how he guarded James Harden, who finished with just 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s win that sets up an Tuesday showdown with Golden State (17-2) in Phoenix for the NBA’s top record.
1. When Chris Paul and Monty Williams gave early all-defensive endorsements for Mikal Bridges, it felt too early.
May have to rethink that after seeing Bridges come up with a career-high seven steals, be all over the floor and guard two of the game’s best scorers ever in Kevin Durant and Harden.
Now to make it clear, Bridges mostly guarded Harden, but had some moments against Durant and got one of those steals from behind on the MVP candidate.
But Bridges did most of his work on Harden.
Picked him up full court. Forced turnovers.
Harden finished with a game-high seven turnovers.
Forced tough shots. Showed how much times have changed since his rookie year.
There was one trip late in the game he guarded Harden into a miss and Durant into a kickout pass for 3. Now Patty Mills made the 3, but on next trip, Bridges guarding Durant again and Durant misfired.
And by the way, Bridges also scored 13 points in playing a team-high 41 minutes.
Booker put up numbers, Paul did what he does and the bench came up big, but Bridges was the difference maker.
2. Now Harden had 13 rebounds and 14 assists, but what the Nets need from him and Durant, with no Kyrie Irving, are big scoring nights.
The vibe Steve Nash gave off during pregame is that the Nets are finding their way without Irving, who has yet to return to the team after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
So while Brooklyn has the best record in the East, Irving’s absence begs the question of how good would they be with him.
The answer is virtually unstoppable.
See, Harden could get away with being a facilitator with Irving on the floor.
Without Irving, the Nets just don’t have enough firepower to beat a team like Phoenix that has so many scoring options and can defend in being ranked in the top 10 in offensive (6th) and defensive rating (3rd).
Even Durant scoring a game-high 39 on 28 shots wasn’t enough. The Nets need Harden to deliver buckets to beat the NBA’s best.
The Suns are certainly that as they improved to a league-best 9-1 on the road.
3. JaVale McGee was talking to Deandre Ayton throughout the game as the starting big had a tough night defending LaMarcus Aldridge on the perimeter.
Ayton seemed a step slow all night in allowing offensive rebounds and not handling the ball well in the paint.
McGee helped offset that in posting his third double-double of the season in finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The 7-footer has scored at least 10 points in six of his last seven games. His latest outing was on a sore right ankle.
He continues to be the biggest offseason addition for the Suns.
4. Jae Crowder continues to come up with a huge rebound in key moments.
At Cleveland, Crowder dug one out in traffic late in the game.
At Brooklyn with the Nets making one final rally, Crowder followed up a Booker airball miss with a putback to give Phoenix a nine-point lead with 56.5 seconds left.
He only scored five points, missed six of his seven 3-point attempts, but again came up with a winning play.
5. The stage is set.
Even if the Warriors lose Sunday to the Clippers, Tuesday’s matchup against Phoenix will be for the league’s top record.
This is the first of three games within 30 days as they face each other Dec. 3 in San Francisco and Christmas Day back in Phoenix.
They say the first game off a road trip is tough, but the Suns will have two days between Saturday night’s win and Tuesday’s big-time showdown with Warriors.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 5 takeaways from Suns 16th straight win in outlasting Nets to setup showdown with Warriors