Against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night, the Phoenix Suns had to overcome their own bleeding feet time and again.
“Felt to me like I was reading War and Peace,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said afterward. “It was a saga of a lot of ups and downs, a roller coaster emotionally.”
Memphis had a big scoring run in every single quarter — 14-3 in the first, then 13-4, 18-2 and 8-0 — but this time the Suns would not hang their heads or go quietly into that good night.
“Every time we’d get up by 8 they’d go on an 8-0 run,” Memphis guard Shelvin Mack said. “That happened multiple times in the game and that kind of burned us late.”
The Suns followed Memphis’ end of first quarter 14-3 run with a 10-4 run of their own to start the second quarter behind Trevor Ariza and four bench guys.
Then when Memphis ran off a 13-4 run in the middle of the quarter, the starters reeled off a 22-5 scoring run bridging halftime (13-5 going into halftime, then 9-0 coming out).
Then the worst of times returned. The Suns decided they’d like to foul Memphis on every touch or shot for a while, sending the Grizzlies to the free throw line on seven straight possessions at one point, fueling an 18-2 Grizzlies run to take an 11-point lead at 74-63.
Booker committed four of the fouls himself, saddling him with five and forcing him to the bench. In the third quarter, Booker had 4 fouls, 0 points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists. He left the game with his team down 10 and the worst of times were being felt indeed.
But the Suns second unit once again fueled a recovery. Trevor and the four benchies went on a 7-0 run to close out the quarter respectably.
Memphis responded with another run to open the fourth quarter to get up by 12 with 8:50 to go before Booker and the Suns closed out the game by outscoring the Grizzlies 25-11.
After Booker had goose-egged the third quarter and almost single-handedly put his team in a 10-point deficit in the third, their star came back out in the fourth and directly accounted for 23 of the Suns final 25 points (14 points scored, plus 3 assists to Bridges for 9 more). The only points not directly attributed to Booker to close out the game were a pair of free throws by Deandre Ayton.
Mikal Bridges played the last 18 consecutive minutes in the game, making 4 of his 5 threes while also playing active defense. Bridges final make was to tie the game 98-98 as two Grizzlies defenders closed out hard to try to block or deter the shot.
Was he worried?
“Nah,” Bridges replied with a confident smile. “I was ready. I was already locked onto to the rim before the ball even came to me.”
“I love being on the floor with him,” Booker said of teammate Bridges, who is actually older than Booker by a few months. “He does everything it takes to win. He spaces the floor, defends, how long he is, with good instincts not a lot of people have. He was well-coached at Villanova. They know how to win.”
Zing go the strings
On opening night, the Suns made 19 threes and closed out the Dallas Mavericks behind Booker’s 19 fourth quarter points.
On Sunday night, they made 14 threes and closed out the Memphis Grizzlies behind Booker’s 14 points and 3 big assists on three-pointers by Mikal Bridges.
Collectively, in their two wins, the team made 33 of 66 attempts, for a clean 50% shooting.
In their seven losses, the Suns never made more than 11 threes and never made more than 32.3% in any of them (five times failing to make even 30%). And, they never had a second half lead.
It’s important to remember that the Suns 7 losses are all likely playoff teams, including 3 of the top 4 seeds in the league so far (Golden State and Denver in the West, Toronto in the East). And, three of those games were played without Devin Booker (hamstring).
The 22 year old Booker’s make with 1.7 seconds left was his 4th make in his last 5 tries with a chance to tie or take the lead with 3 or fewer seconds left on the game clock since joining the league.
Shout out to twitter’s infamous Kris Hanson for this find.
“I’ve been on the other side too,” Booker said of the game winner. “Missing shots too a lot in my life where it’s hard to deal with the consequences. But you just have to have confidence in yourself and remain humble and take the good with the bad.”
He just turned 22 years old last week. If you love counting success by age — and I know you Bright Siders do! — he is:
- 0-for-1 as a 19 year old
- 3-for-4 as a 20 year old
- 1-for-2 as a 21 year old
- 1-for-1 as a 22 year old, and counting...
“You’ve got a guy like Booker,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the Suns. “Capable of making shots like that down the stretch, you put yourself at risk when you get in close ball games like that.”
“He made some tough shots,” Mack said. “Some pull up two’s, contested, you can’t ask anything more than that. He’s a great player and he knocked them down.”
Suns coach Kokoskov shared his thoughts on Booker too.
“Devin (Booker) is not a bad player,” Kokoskov deadpanned. “He has the ability to close games. He’s proven that many, many times.”
But he didn’t absolve Booker of his earlier performance in the game either. Remember that 4-foul, 0-everything-else third quarter?
“For us to be a successful team,” Kokoskov said. “He has to play on the top level, for many, many minutes, he has to score for us, he has to play-make for us, he has to play defense and play really big chunks of minutes. We appreciate everything he’s doing. So, yes, (at the) end of the game, he’s a guy who can land the plane.”
Let’s hear from Booker himself.
Next up on the runway
- Tuesday: Suns face only their second sure-fire lotto-bound team of the season in the Brooklyn Nets, though the Nets DID just blow out the Sixers on Sunday night
- Thursday: Another whopper of an opponent comes to town in the Boston Celtics.