When it comes to defense, few in the league are playing at the level that Mikal Bridges has this season. Guarding the one through the four (even the five if needed), Bridges has been a force on the defensive end, forcing steals, blocking shots and shutting out opponents.
The second-year pro continued that trend on Saturday night, but also mixed in a lethal three-point shot that led to arguably his best game at the NBA level. Bridges forced a steal that led to a one-man fast-break dunk early in the first quarter and his game quickly took-off from there.
The Suns were without both Cam Johnson and Kelly Oubre Jr., leaving Bridges as one of the only wings left available, but he seemed more than up to challenge. After knocking down two threes in the first half, Bridges caught fire coming out the break, hitting two more in the third and two more in the fourth as he notched a career-high six threes on the night.
“Mikal is the same guy every day,” Head Coach Monty Williams said. “Great attitude, looks you in the eye when you coach him… He’s doing it on both ends. He’s got a tough matchup every night. Tonight, he had Tatum and Tatum is a handful. To be able to have that kind of energy to go back on the other end and make shots.”
Bridges’ defense (2 steals and 2 blocks) and three-point shooting (6-of-8) played a critical role in the Suns holding a double-digit lead for most of the night, but arguably his most crucial play came within the arc.
With under a minute remaining, the Suns lead was down to just three points and the team was in need of one more big time shot from Bridges. Dario Šarić found Bridges in the corner, but the Celtics defense complimented his lights-out shooting on the night as they quickly closed in on him beyond the arc. However, Bridges caught the defense off-guard, put the ball on the ground, drove to the basket and pulled up on an eight-foot jumper.
It took two bounces and a friendly roll on the rim, but the bucket sank, the Suns left Boston with a 123-119 win and Mikal Bridges finished the game with a career-high 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
“My teammates,” Bridges credited for his big night. “They found me when I was open. Just staying confident and shooting every time I was open.”
But Bridges wasn’t the only Sun who went off in Boston.
There’s just something special about Devin Booker and the TD Garden as it seems that every time he’s there he puts on a show. Booker scored a season-high 22 points in the first half (3 more points than he had in the first half of his 70-point game) and looked to be well on his way to another dominant scoring night.
While the defense began to hone in on Booker in the second half, he still found a way to impact the game. The 23-year-old drew defenders away to open up shots for others, battled on the boards and found his teammates as he finished the game just shy of a triple-double. Booker scored 39 points on 12-of-20 shooting to go along with his 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Bridges said. “He was going off, but still had the vision to find me and find everybody else.”
After notching his first 20-20 game on Thursday, Deandre Ayton continued to be a force for the Suns in the paint against the Celtics. For the second straight game he had 26+ points, 15+ rebounds and 2+ blocks as he quickly seems to be getting into mid-season form.
The Suns are currently 7-4 in their last 11 games as they return home on Monday to tip-off against the San Antonio Spurs. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.