PHOENIX (AP) — Chris Paul got knocked to the ground by a flagrant foul and popped up angry.
The Phoenix Suns guard first took his frustration out by yelling at New York coach Tom Thibodeau. Then he turned his attention to handling the rest of the Knicks on the basketball court.
A feisty Paul had 17 points and 11 assists, Deandre Ayton scored 26 points and the Suns stayed in the hunt for the top record in the NBA by beating the Knicks 128-105 on Friday night.
“That’s always been who I am,” Paul said. “I compete and play hard and I’m going to take what the game calls for.”
The Suns stunned the Knicks by taking a 90-88 lead into the fourth quarter after scoring four points in less than a second. Torrey Craig tipped in Devin Booker’s miss with 0.8 seconds left and Cameron Payne stole the inbounds pass and made a layup.
It was the Suns’ first lead since the first quarter and they’d never relinquish it.
Payne celebrated with the bench after his stunning bucket, the crowd got rowdy and the momentum continued into the fourth. Mikal Bridges made a corner 3-pointer with 9:38 left to push the Suns ahead 101-93 and a frustrated Thibodeau called a timeout.
It didn’t help. The Suns scored 38 points in the fourth while shooting 8 of 12 on 3-pointers.
“Offensively, we had one of those eruptions,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That was just a desperate effort by our basketball team in the second half. When we play like that, with the competitive guys we have, we can be hard to deal with.”
Things got tense midway through the fourth when Knicks forward Taj Gibson knocked Paul to the ground and was called for a flagrant foul. Paul got up mad and started jawing with Thibodeau before Williams came on the court and pulled the point guard away.
The incident proved motivation for Paul, who quickly made two mid-range jumpers that helped push the Suns to a comfortable win. Ayton contributed one of his best games of the year, shooting 10 of 14 from the field and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Later, New York’s Julius Randle was given a technical after getting into it with Phoenix’s Jae Crowder.
Thibodeau called his exchange with Paul “no big deal.” Paul said he and Gibson talked after the game and made amends.
“You can make a case that they are as good as anyone in the west,” Thibodeau said. “We felt that we would have to play 48 minutes to win. For three quarters, I thought we were pretty good.”
Randle led New York with 24 points and 11 rebounds. R.J. Barrett added 23 points.
“We played a poor second half. That was pretty much it,” Randle said. “We went away from everything we did. We’ve got to learn from it.”
The Suns and Knicks both came in fighting for playoff positioning with less than two weeks left in the regular season.
Phoenix still has a chance at the top seed in the Western Conference and best record in the NBA. The Suns are one game behind the Jazz for the No. 1 spot.
The Knicks are trying to fend off the Hawks, Heat and Celtics for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Suns led by 13 at one point in the first but the Knicks rallied to take a 33-30 lead by the end of the quarter. New York stayed ahead the entire second quarter and had a 63-56 advantage at halftime.
Randle had 17 points and seven rebounds before the break while Rose had 14 points and five assists. Ayton had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Suns.
Knicks: Guards Alec Burks (left knee contusion) and Immanuel Quickley (left ankle sprain) were out. So was center Mitchell Robinson (right foot surgery). … The Knicks had a 63-56 lead at halftime, which was the exact same advantage they had in New York against the Suns on April 26. The Suns rallied to win that game 118-110. … Nerlens Noel fouled out late in the fourth. He finished with five points and five rebounds.
Suns: Paul celebrated his 36th birthday Thursday. … Forwards Cam Johnson (right wrist sprain) and Abdel Nader (right knee) didn’t play. … Crowder returned after missing the past eight games with a sprained right ankle. He hit a corner 3-pointer soon after he checked into the game and finished with 18 points.
Paul had high praise for Crowder.
“The biggest reason we won this game is Jae Crowder,” Paul said. “It’s my first year playing with Jae Crowder and he’s one of my favorite teammates I ever played with.”
Knicks: At Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
Suns: At Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
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