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Suns’ Jay Triano: Win vs. 76ers wasn’t just about Devin Booker’s 46

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, center, goes up to shoot between Phoenix Suns' Marquese Chriss, left, and Josh Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Two games prior, the Detroit Pistons overwhelmed Phoenix with trapping defense on guard Devin Booker and offense that repeatedly broke the Suns down off the dribble then buried them with ball movement.

For a team expected to take ugly losses and many losses overall, the measurement is about Phoenix’s reaction and improvement from any losses.

The Suns reacted from the disappointing results in Detroit by challenging the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics — granted, Boston’s league-best defense was sleepwalking Saturday morning — and then riding Booker’s 46 points in a 115-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. But Phoenix interim coach Jay Triano saw a lot more to like than Booker’s season-best scoring game.

“We take each possession and we give it a rating, and we had our highest individual rating last night, especially in the first half,” Triano told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Tuesday. “That kept us in the game long enough to get Devin going.”

Booker went 2-for-11 in the first quarter before finishing 17-of-32 from the field and 5-of-8 beyond the arc.

Phoenix shot 38 percent in the first quarter and, despite allowing Philadelphia to shoot 55 percent, forced five turnovers leading to eight points. In the second quarter, the Suns locked down the Sixers, who shot 30 percent and trailed Phoenix by 13 points at the half.

Meanwhile, Booker hit all four of his shots in the second quarter and used that momentum to put up 32 second-half points. It was enough of a lead to hold off a second-half rally by the 76ers.

“That’s what we’ve been preaching to these guys. If we play solid defense, we’ll stay in the game long enough to make shots or not, and that’ll determine the game,” Triano said.

LEARNING TO PLAY OFF BOOKER, TINKERING WITH LINEUPS

Booker’s two games with the most turnovers on the season came in the last two weeks.

A veteran Pelicans guard lineup swarmed the 21-year-old a day after Thanksgiving before Detroit, led by one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, Avery Bradley, forced him into seven turnovers without an assist last Wednesday. Bradley had the help of an aggressive trapping defense that allowed Booker to get off just eight shots.

The 131-107 loss was a teaching tool for the Suns, who are learning how to play off defenses that stop Booker with such conviction.

“We got stung a little bit in the Detroit game when he got trapped and we had guys running away (from the ball),” Triano said. “We know Devin is going to get trapped now. We know he’s going to face a lot of pressure. Come to him, make yourself available (to receive a pass) and then we’ll attack and play four against three when that happens.

“He’s been very willing when teams are going to hit him and trap him.”

The Suns have also been playing more and more with Booker at point guard with a tandem of T.J. Warren and rookie Josh Jackson alongside him.

Jackson has often picked up opposing point guards to give Booker less of a workload on the defensive end, and Triano likes what he sees with that lineup.

Finding combinations that work will take more time and analysis.

“We’re trying to find out who we are,” Triano said.

QUOTABLE

“I’ll draw up a play sometimes in a timeout and I’ll say, ‘You’ll set a backscreen here and then we’re going to look for the lob and your guy will help a little bit and then we’re going to clean it up with the pindown.’ And (Booker will) look at the guy setting the pindown, and he’ll say, ‘That guy’s gonna show a little bit, so slip, I’ll find you on the weakside.’ Sure enough, he’s able to make plays for other people.”

— Triano on Booker’s basketball instincts and IQ

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