The Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans faced off in the Big Easy on Friday night with both teams entering having won 8 of their previous 13 games. Compressed in the middle of the Western Conference standings, their first matchup of the season was a key one. Walking away with the victory was the Suns, and with it they gained ground on the Pelicans, moving to within one game of them in the standings.
The last time Devin Booker played the Pelicans — all the way back in December of 2022 — he scored 58 points. This is definitely a team that he gets excited to see and an opposing fan base that has no love lost for him. His final line: 52 points on 18-of-30 shooting including 6-of-11 from three, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. It was Devin Booker’s night,
He wasn’t alone in his efforts, as Kevin Durant was his usual All-Star self, adding 26 points to the Suns’ total. Jusuf Nurkic did his part in dominating the interior with rebounding, no easy task against Jonas Valenciunas and the big New Orleans team. He may have had just 5 points, but he had 15 rebounds.
The Pelicans had their challenges shooting, going to 10-of-32 from beyond the arc in the game. They were led in Scory by Zion Williamson, who scored 24 points.
The victory extends the Suns’ winning streak to four games, with the last two coming against teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. These are important wins as this team continues to jell on both offense and defense.
Phoenix opened with similar ball movement that was effective in their win on Tuesday, finding open shooters with wide-open looks from deep. Booker hit his first two three-pointers. Yes, first quarter Book was back.
The Big Three joined Booker in his scoring as Durant scored 7 points in the first and Brad Beal added 4.
The Suns were getting anything they wanted early in the first, but the balanced New Orleans attack kept pace. Dressed in black and neon green, the Pelicans shot 8-of-12 from the field through the first half of the first.
Phoenix continued to find quality shots as the quarter progressed, coupled with some one-footed off-balance hits by Book. They pushed their lead up to 11 points following an and-1 conversion by the guy with the 9th most Western Conference votes for guards. #VoteForBook
In an attempt to match the size of the Pelicans, Vogel opted to utilize the services of Udoka Azubuike versus putting in Drew Eubanks in his first round of substitutions. He picked up a foul on a driving Ingram and allowed a layup by Zion on his first two defensive possessions. New Orleans's plan was to attack him.
Booker kept cooking, hitting midrange jumpers, and leading the Suns to a 41-point first quarter as he scored 25 points in the first on 9-of-11 shooting.
Devin Booker becomes the second player this season to score 25 points in the first quarter, per @Stathead.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 20, 2024
The other player? Mikal Bridges.
Devin Booker 25-footer over a double team for 25 first quarter points pic.twitter.com/zikPgR8X0Z— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) January 20, 2024
Points in the 1st quarter:— Booker Muse (@DevinBookerMuse) January 20, 2024
25 — Devin Booker
28 — New Orleans Pelicans
This just isn’t fair. pic.twitter.com/xnQaJaTU3b
After one, Suns up 41-28.
Typically, Devin Booker begins the second quarter on the bench. Not tonight. He must’ve had a convincing conversation with Frank Vogel as he began the second with a lineup that included Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon, and Jusuf Nurkic.
And he kept attacking, taking shots, and drawing fouls. He did finally sit with 9:33 left in the half.
The Suns opened the second on a 9-1 run, extending their lead to 21 points. The Pelicans struggled from beyond the three-point line, hitting just 2 of their first 19 shots from beyond the arc.
Josh Okogie made his way to the locker room after being hit by the freight train known as Zion, although it appeared that he twisted his ankle by stepping on the foot of teammate, Jusuf Nurkic.
The officials began injecting themselves into the game on some weak calls on both sides of the ball, and then dishing out technical fouls to Kevin Durant and later Herb Jones for the reactions to the whistle.
These late whistles are killing me— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) January 20, 2024
The increase in whistles slowed the pace of the game down dramatically, but it did not affect the level of defensive focus in which the Suns were playing. Sure, New Orleans didn’t do themselves any favors shooting 15% from deep (3-of-20), but the switching on defense and ability to cut off driving lanes created turmoil. Their bench didn’t help much either, as they went a combined 1-of-12 from the field in the first half.
The Pelicans are a long and physical team and I was impressed by the rebounding of Nurkic early in this game. He ended the first half with 8 rebounds and holding Jonas Valancuinas to just 4 boards, although he did lead the team in scoring with 16 points.
Booker was less effective in the second quarter, due to the attention he was receiving from the New Orleans defense. They were doubling in blitzing him every chance they could in an effort to take the ball out of his hands.
New Orleans closed the half on a 9-3 run, closing the Suns’ lead to 17 points. Booker scored 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting, Beal had 13, and Durant had 12. Grayson Allen? 1 point.
Phoenix entered halftime up 69-52.
Devin Booker continued his offensive focus to open the second half, scoring a quick six points in the first three minutes of the period. He hit the 40-point mark at 9:01 in the third quarter and his 42nd point at 8:47. It was Book’s kitchen tonight and he was cooking some tasty jambalaya.
back to back buckets from Booker pic.twitter.com/1LvxV5m56p— Cage (@ridiculouscage) January 20, 2024
The continual whistles by the officials led to Bradley Beal picking up his fourth foul with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter.
The Suns made 8 consecutive field goals in the third quarter, which allowed them to push their lead to 24 points. It would’ve been more but on every Pelicans possession, Zion Williamson was penetrating and either drawing contact or laying the ball in. He truly is a one-man wrecking crew at times. Especially against Phoenix.
New Orleans kept fighting and attacking the interior of the Suns as it appeared that the defensive intensity that existed in the first half was no longer present. The Suns offense was carrying their own, but they were not forcing the Pelicans into tough shots.
With 1:08 left in the third quarter, Booker stuck a 26-foot three-pointer. That shot surpassed the 50-point mark, giving him 52 on the night.
Suns fans needed this Book game.— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) January 20, 2024
The Suns led by as many as 26 and carried a 100-80 lead into the fourth quarter.
The fourth began with a sighting amore rare than Bigfoot: a made corner three-pointer by Josh Okogie. If he can hit that shot consistently, the Suns become unbelievably dangerous on offense.
With all of the accolades Booker will get in this game, Kevin Durant was spectacular. The tough shot attempts, the buzzer-beating makes, and his ability to stop any run that the Pelicans threw at Phoenix was once again elite. He ended the night with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
Grayson Allen began to stretch the lead in the fourth as he began to contribute from beyond the arc. Back to back to back from GA threes push their Suns lead to 29 points midway through the fourth quarter.
Phoenix held on to the lead and there was no appearance by the fourth-quarter Suns tonight. They outscored the Pelicans in the fourth quarter and won the game, 123-109.
Phoenix heads home for two games, with their first night of a back-to-back coming against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night. Indiana recently acquired Pascal Siakam in a trade with the Toronto Raptors.
Sunday’s game will be Siakam’s second with the team. He is currently debuting against the Portland Trail Blazers, a game in which Tyrese Haliburton is returning after being out since January 8 with a hamstring injury.
The Suns will play both in Phoenix on Sunday. Oh joy, am I right?