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Game Recap: Suns stars shine before depth needs overtime to beat Pistons in pre-season opener

Big 3 combines for 35 in 42 combined minutes

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Detroit’s own Devin Booker stood out in his 15 minutes, scoring 12 points and dishing out two assists, helping the Phoenix Suns to a 130-126 victory over the Detroit Pistons and former Suns coach Monty Williams to start the pre-season 1-0.

Starting with Jusuf Nurkic winning his first tip-off and Bradley Beal getting to the line on the first possession (then making Phoenix’s first basket), this one was going a million miles a minute right from the jump, leading to a 14-2 after just 3:14. And I loved it.

Each of the five starters got involved on both ends before Brad Beal was the first of the three stars to exit, replaced by Eric Gordon. While rotational patterns will be closely monitored this season, it comes with knowing Vogel wants to experiment all year long, so we won’t be putting much stock into any one decision.

Booker, Beal, Josh Okogie, Kevin Durant, and Nurkic started. First half rotation order:

  • Gordon
  • Grayson Allen
  • Yuta Watanabe
  • Drew Eubanks
  • Keita Bates-Diop

The stars who remained, Booker and Durant, continued the offensive onslaught by hitting pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper. These two are two of the best in the NBA at creating their own look, and they’re starting off 2023-24 by hitting them with great efficiency. Durant played two thirds of the quarter before being replaced by his former Brooklyn teammate, Yuta Watanabe.

Booker took a seat for the first time with about two and a half minutes left in the opening frame, replaced by Beal. It’s easy to see how dangerous this team can be when you imagine the full staggers they’ll implement when able.

Booker was back in at the start of the second, and he kept firing, and kept hitting. The handful of pull-up threes he cashed in during the first half are such a good sign for how his shot profile is continuing to diversify even in year nine. Many felt throughout last season — and in the playoffs especially — that a more balanced helping of pull-up threes could loosen up defenses and open up easier looks inside the arc.

Suns accumulated a first half lead of 20-plus at different points, showing that it took no time for the team to get used to each other (for now, at least). The Suns hit 16 of their first 18 shots on their way to their first 42 points.

But one of my prevailing takeaways from the first half as the stars started to sit is just that Nurkic is everywhere on both ends as well as on the glass. So active and so aggressive.

Pistons clawed back to make it a single-digit game during the second quarter, but the Suns took a 70-58 lead into the break. The depth unit that took the floor to start the third was able to get the lead back up to 20 in just three minutes.

Second half starters: Saben Lee (two-way), Allen, Watanabe, Bates-Diop, and Eubanks. Rotation order:

  • Nassir Little
  • Chimezie Metu
  • Bol Bol
  • Keon Johnson
  • Udoka Azubuike (two-way)

Even with much of their top-end firepower already seated for the rest of the afternoon, the Suns reached the century-mark with a few minutes to spare in the third. Bol Bol was able to find a couple baskets out of broken down plays, and Chimezie Metu showcased some juice with the ball in his hands as well.

Saben Lee impressed as he always does, looking much more experienced than his few two-way seasons would have you believe. He’s always on the attack, and it makes things so much easier for his teammates.

Lee and the rest of the collection of 3rd/4th stringers were able to hold on through overtime against a scrappy, young group of Pistons (mostly made up of players that will be in their rotation) for the win, 130-126. His 11 points (despite 2-12 shooting), four assists, and two steals were huge in securing the exhibition win.

Box score watching:

  • Booker: 12 points (5-9 FG, 2-4 3P) and two assists (one turnover) in 15 minutes
  • Durant: 12 points (4-7 FG, 1-2 3P, 3-3 FT), three rebounds, and one assist (two turnovers) in 13 minutes
  • Beal: 11 points (3-5 FG, 1-1 3P, 4-4 FT), four rebounds, and three assists (one turnover) in 14 minutes
  • Nurkic: 5 points (2-4 FG, 1-3 FT), five rebounds, and three assists (one turnover) in 15 minutes
  • Allen: 18 points (7-11 FG, 3-6 3P, 1-1 FT), three rebounds, three assists (one turnover) and two steals in 20 minutes

Up next:

Revenge won’t be on the table, but the Denver Nuggets will be this Tuesday (giving you a break between games 2 and 3 of Diamondbacks-Dodgers in the NLDS) at 7 p.m. from Footprint Center in Phoenix.

TNT is the listed broadcaster for the game, but I’ve never heard of TNT getting a pre-season game, so just for your information in case it’s blacked out in the Valley, 3TV is set to carry it again as well. Maybe you’d prefer the sweet voices of K-Ray and E.J. anyway.

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