Chris Paul is back, but Devin Booker is still the one willing the Phoenix Suns to victory, 140-130 in Denver.
Suns win their seventh in a row, 60th of the season, and clinch the league’s top playoff seed.
Suns came out a little lackadaisical in this one. Jokic got a few early buckets despite good Ayton defense, and Phoenix had a few unforced turnovers. But once they got their feet under them, the Suns looked exactly like you’d expect with Paul back. Booker was especially enjoying the decreased defensive attention; he had 11 points in his first five minutes on just five shots. Paul assisted on two of those buckets.
Booker continued his aggression in looking for his shot for the rest of Paul’s initial stint, but was a little more balanced in his approach when Phoenix moved to a three-guard lineup of Cam Payne, Landry Shamet, and Booker, with Torrey Craig at the 4, and JaVale McGee at the 5. Booker finished the quarter 17 points and 2 assists in the frame. He looked like he was fully aware that it was the 5-year anniversary of his 70-point game.
Bones Hyland, a late-first round rookie out of VCU, proved to be the toughest guard for the Nuggets. He put up 10 points in his 4 minutes off the bench in the first, and helped Denver keep pace to tie the Suns at 31 at the end of the quarter. Both teams shot better than 57% from the field.
Early in the second, both offenses still had it going. Crowder made three three-pointers in a span of 32 seconds, two of which were assisted by Paul, and Hyland hit another three threes himself despite an emphasis in denying him the ball. Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton took their own turns of contributing Suns offense to make for a more balanced offensive attack.
Much of Hyland’s run came while Booker sat on the bench, and you’ve gotta wonder if seeing it motivated Booker even more. He made sure to stamp his footprint on the end of the half, adding 7 points and an assist in his final stint of the half to reach 24 points and 3 assists in the first half to outdo Hyland’s 19 and 2. The game’s only two players in double figures were Ayton (10) and Denver’s Will Barton (10).
offensive ratings for this game in the first half:— y - damon allred (@iamdamonallred) March 25, 2022
defense optional in one half, hopefully the suns lock it down in the second.
Even as the defensive intensity started to ramp up, including Paul drawing a technical foul from Jeff Green, neither team’s offensive efficiency faltered in any real way. Denver’s efficiency actually increased in the early goings of the third. Their entire starting lineup reached double figures while Phoenix’s offense struggled to find contributions that weren’t directly derived from their big 3.
Booker very clearly was not going to lose this game. The way he was fighting for every single loose ball and going for every steal he had a chance for was beautiful and reminiscent of the role he played for Team USA in Tokyo. By the 2:52 mark in the third, he was up to 35 points (18 shots), 5 assists, and 2 steals. He also passed Amar’e Stoudemire for 6th on the all-time scoring list for the Suns.
BOOKER HAS NO QUIT. pic.twitter.com/g23NHlD7U2— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 25, 2022
Booker followed it up soon after with another steal for a dunk. Booker likely had this extra edge tonight as he deals with the media’s hesitancy to give him the award recognition he so deserves.
By the end of the quarter, Suns were still down 104-106, but Booker was up to 43 points (20 shots), 6 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. The man was putting on a show. Ayton was next on the team with 16 and 6 going blow for blow with Jokic’s 17 and 6. Hyland added just 4 in the third to reach 23.
Even as Booker sat to start the fourth, the Suns offense didn’t miss a beat, and Paul showed exactly how precise and lethal he can be running the team. Then when Paul sat, Booker’s playmaking took centerstage and winning time came around. They feel like the Thanos line: “I am inevitable”.
As the game wound down and the win became clear, the Suns fans embedded in Denver’s arena made themselves heard, chanting “MVP” when Booker was at the line for his 48th and 49th points, a new season-high. He said after the game that this was the most Suns fans he’s seen on the road, even more than the series against Denver.
The Suns won 140-130 after they trailed for most of the contest.
- 49 points on 25 shots and 10 assists for Booker, his 37th career double-double.
- After being -4.2 in net rating at the half, Phoenix finished +10.0.
- Paul had 17 points (10 shots) and 13 assists in his first game since the All-Star Break.
- Suns reach 60 wins on the season and clinch the league-wide #1. They need to go 3-5 or better the rest of the way for the franchise record.
Suns host the Sixers on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. We know Booker and Ayton both love matching up against Philly, so look for another great game from those two.