Devin Booker has been there before. He’s scored 50 points in a lopsided loss, and much prefers being on the winning team instead.
On Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns, perennial All-Star Stephen Curry scored 50 points for the Golden State Warriors on crazy-efficient shooting just to keep them within striking distance in a lopsided loss. They never led after the seven-minute mark of the first quarter, and were down double-digits for almost the entire night.
Booker scored 27 points and dished 9 assists in the win, as the short-handed Suns — missing All-Star point guard Chris Paul and sharpshooter Cam Johnson — walloped the Warriors with a 130-point scoring outburst.
“I have been on the other end of it also,” Booker said with a nod and what I can best describe as a sad smile, when asked about Curry’s 50-spot in a losing effort. “I think that is why I play the way that I do. In my younger years I had to force a lot of shots, it weighed on me throughout a season.”
Curry, one of the greatest shot makers in NBA history still at the peak of his game, definitely had to force shots all night long. He was constantly left to his own devices, creating three-point play after three-point play the old fashioned way and the modern way.
“We’re playing a Drew league game right now,” head coach Steve Kerr said of the 6-9 Warriors who aren’t making anyone work hard for their wins after years of watching “beautiful basketball” as they won 4 NBA titles and made six NBA Finals in the last 8 years.
At least for the moment, the Steph and Book have swapped spots from those years early in Book’s career, when Steph was the leading scorer on the contending Warriors while Book was the leading scorer on a team getting beaten more often than not.
Booker will go down as one of the best scorers in NBA history. He’s been the 6th or 7th-youngest to reach every 1K milestone in scoring since he joined the league as an 18-year old in 2015, despite not even getting much playing time the first half of his rookie season.
He’s averaged 26 points per game for the last five years on high efficiency, the first two of those seasons being the only good scoring option on a bad Suns team. Ironically, when he made the ‘news’ one summer for complaining about double-teams in summer pickup games with friends, he’d already been the double and triple-team focus of entire defenses for years.
Given all his scoring exploits, you might be surprised to know he’s only scored 50+ points three times in his career. That’s it. Three times.
But you won’t be surprised to know he’s 0-3 in those games, with an average loss margin of 15 points.
It’s been four years since that last 50-spot game — at the young age of 22 — despite his scoring average increasing over time. He doesn’t want to go back to those days of having to be the only scoring option on a bad team.
“So now having a deep roster,” Booker said. “Even being down men and still having guys come in...I think that is the longevity of it and I think that will get us through a season.”
This is not to say Steph Curry’s Warriors — the defending NBA Champs! — are a terrible team akin to that rookie-laden roster around Booker in 2019. Steph’s teammates are veterans and all-time greats who are, at least for now, playing like they’re sliding feet-first down the back side of the hill.
But a 50-burger in a lopsided loss is a 50-burger in a lopsided loss nonetheless.
Booker’s one of only 17 players in NBA history with a career average of 4.5+ assists per game while scoring 23+ points. That’s a Hall of Fame list right there.
By the end of the season, heck probably even by Christmas, the Warriors will get out of their funk and play like a contender again.
But for now, they’re just an also-ran who needs league-leading scoring efforts from Steph Curry to even be competitive.
Other notes from the Suns win over the Warriors, 130-119.
- Cameron Payne scored a career-high 29 points, while also dishing 7 assists. He’s never scored more than 24 in a regular season game before, though he did post a 29/9 game in the Western Conference Finals playoff game for the Suns in June 2021.
- Mikal Bridges dished a career-high 9 assists. “Yeah I didn’t know he could pass, for real,” Booker said with a grin. “That’s good to know though, moving forward.”
- The Suns are now 33-10 after a loss since the beginning of the 2020-21 season, the best mark in the NBA in that span
- Tomorrow, November 18, will be the two year anniversary of the Chris Paul trade.
Now the quotes from coach and players.... (transcription thanks to the Suns Media Relations team!)
SUNS HEAD COACH MONTY WILLIAMS
(On what stuck out the most tonight…) “The rebounding. They only had six offensive boards and that was what plagued us the other day. We value rebounding on both ends and in Miami, I think we gave up 17 offensive boards; tonight, we gave up six and the second chance points are obviously lower when you do that. Steph (Curry) is going to have “Steph moments” and when that happens, you can’t give them extra positions. He would’ve ended up with 60+ if we don’t rebound the ball tonight. Obviously, we spread the ball around and knocked down some shots and that helps. It allows us to set our defense and that allows us to have better rebounding position because you probably have size on size, so that was the thing that stuck out. Cam (Payne) Book (Devin Booker), Mikal (Bridges) going for 20-plus and the starting group, I thought Torrey (Craig) was huge tonight knocking down shots and his defense, just making energy play after energy play and Book’s ability to just find guys. Our bench was solid, I thought D Lee’s (Damion) ability to space and knock down shots and just be in the right spot. It’s always a chippy game when we play those guys but we have to manage that better, especially in closing moments, all that stuff counts.”
(On Cameron Payne’s career-high performance tonight…) “Cam can score the ball. He had seven assists to go with it, but in the closing moments he needs to be better. We don’t need to have all that silliness at the end of games. When you think about his game, he played so well tonight and then we have to finish it the right way and with Chris (Paul) out. Those are the things that we’re looking for from Cam - that’s managing the game. So, great tonight from a scoring perspective, but we also have to cap it off with finishing the right way.”
(On Mikal Bridges having a career-high nine assists tonight…) “It’s sharing the ball, it’s who we are. When you don’t pass the ball in our program, it’s deflating. Everybody on the floor, on the bench, we all feel it. We had willing passers, we tried to play good to great basketball, but for Mikal to have nine assists, that’s a feat cause usually he’s shooting, so tweet that, he’ll get a kick out of that.”
SUNS GUARD DEVIN BOOKER
(On the aggressive start…) “It was a bit intentional coming off a game with four free throws total for a team. We just wanted to assert ourselves in different ways. Just be more aggressive than we were in Miami”
(On Mikal’s nine assists…) “Yeah, I didn’t even know he could pass for real. That is good to know though moving forward. It is good man, Cam Payne with seven of them too. That is the type of basketball we want to play. The ball doesn’t stick, the ball moves faster than people.
(On how a team effort outshines a stellar individual performance…) “It is possible. I have been on the other end of it also. I think that is why I play the way that I do. In my younger years I had to force a lot of shots, it weighed on me throughout a season. So now having a deep roster, even being down men and still having guys come in and play the right way. Jump into an opportunity that they really were not expecting. Josh Okogie came in and had a big block at the rim today. Just multiple plays, Jock (Landale) coming in and playing big also. It is important to have a team. I think that is the longevity of it and I think that will get us through a season.”
(On Torrey Craig’s spark…) “We are sending him for all offensive rebounds. The more possessions the better for us. We get more shots up, and I feel like that is the name of the game. How many did he have tonight? Nine or ten? Ten, coming from a guard/wing spot that is pretty impressive. Just giving us extra kick outs. I have been on the other side of it. It is not a good feeling when you guard a whole possession and give up an offensive rebound layup.”
The Suns play at the Utah Jazz on Friday night. The Jazz (10-6) have been surprisingly good this season despite trading away their All-Stars, and have notched a lot of quality wins. The Suns will have to play their best ball to the Jazz.