Josh Okogie, Mikal Bridges leads Phoenix Suns past Indiana Pacers

PHOENIX (AP) — Broad-shouldered Ish Wainright looks like he should play in the NFL instead of the NBA.

For a while that was the dream.

But Wainright’s athletic career is back on the basketball court these days, and he used his surprising skills to help the shorthanded Phoenix Suns win their second straight game by beating the Indiana Pacers 112-107 on Saturday night.

“Of course you need talent in this league,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “But playing hard with talent, that’s a great combination.”

Josh Okogie led the Suns with 24 points and 10 rebounds while Mikal Bridges added 22 points, but it was a couple of Wainright clutch plays during the final possessions that iced it.

The muscular 6-foot-5, 235-pound forward nailed a corner 3 with 1:10 to go to put the Suns up 107-101, then added a deft assist on a pass to Jock Landale for one adding a simple basket – two standout possessions that had these feisty pacers fighting from behind.

Indiana had a chance to equalize his last possession, but Buddy Hield missed a rushed 3-pointer with two seconds left. The Pacers lost despite a triple-double from TJ McConnell, who had 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Phoenix and his ragtag lineup went into the fourth quarter 87-83. The Suns were again missing a large chunk of their star lineup, including the all-star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Deandre Ayton launch center was out due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

But the Suns are still playing hard and treading water in the Western Conference.

“We’re holding it back and just building confidence,” Wainright said of playing without the team’s stars. “They trust us, so we trust them when they come back.”

Both the Suns and Pacers struggled to score in the fourth quarter.

The Suns went for a 102-94 lead with 2:49 left, but the Pacers scored four points on possession when Phoenix’s Saben Lee was called out for a flagrant foul after elbowing Hield in the face. Hield hit both free throws and Bennedict Mathurin made a layup after the Pacers kept the ball for the obvious foul.

The Pacers eventually went 104-101, but Wainright’s corner 3 turned the momentum back in the Suns’ favor.

The Suns won despite shooting 41.8% from the field. The Pacers shot just 37.5%.

Indiana was without its top scorer Tyrese Haliburton, who missed his sixth straight game. The Pacers have lost seven straight games.

“Getting the next win will be a challenge,” said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle. “That’s how it is in his league.”

The Suns led 59-57 at halftime. Bridges led the Suns with 14 points while Bismack Biyombo had 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Mathurin – who played in college in Arizona – scored 12 points for the Pacers and finished with a team-high 23.

WAINRIGHT’S JOURNEY

Wainright played basketball for four seasons at Baylor before switching to football, where he narrowly finished one season for the Bears.

He played well enough on the football field to earn a tryout with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2018, but didn’t make the final roster. Then it was back to basketball, and he played in Europe for a few years before signing a two-way contract with the Suns in 2021.

He didn’t act much at first, but has slowly earned a bigger role.

“It’s player development,” Williams said. “But it is also the player who is committed to development. You can come to the gym, jack up shots and collect a check, or you can do it on purpose.

MCCONNELL’S TRIPLE DOUBLE

McConnell had the third triple-double of his NBA career and hit a 10th rebound late in the fourth quarter.

“Rebounding is something like a guard. If you don’t block, you have to guess where the ball is going,” McConnell said. “Try chasing long rebounds and they kind of got to me tonight. I wasn’t looking for them, they somehow ended up in my hands.”

TIP INS

Pacers: Haliburton wore the jersey of San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy while he was on the bench. Haliburton and Purdy both played in college at Iowa State.

Suns: Paul, Booker, Ayton, F. Cam Johnson, G. Cam Payne and G. Landry Shamet were all out. … honored the 1992-93 Suns team that won the Western Conference championship. They lost to the Bulls in six games in the NBA Finals. Several players were in attendance, including 11-time All-Star Charles Barkley, who was this season’s MVP. …thrown their 49th consecutive sell-out crowd.

NEXT

Pacers: host Chicago on Tuesday night.

Suns: host Memphis on Sunday night.

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