Devin Booker clutches up, Suns snap 7-game losing streak
PHOENIX — There aren’t many ways to overcome turning the ball over 25 times for 33 opposing points, but the Phoenix Suns discovered a couple of them Sunday night.
One of them is having a closer like Devin Booker, who hit two clutch shots late in a 102-100 Suns (2-7) win over the Memphis Grizzlies (5-3) to snap a seven-game losing streak.
Booker lacked any burst in his game, clearly still not fully recovered from a strained left hamstring that saw him miss three games. Without that, he relied on getting to certain spots on the floor and trying to score from there instead of creating separation. That showed in the closing moments.
With under 50 seconds left and the game tied, Booker couldn’t make space around Grizzlies guard Shelvin Mack, but it didn’t matter.
“That’s what he does,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said of Booker after the game.
“He’s got an ability to close the games and he’s proven that many, many times for us to be (a) successful team he’s got to play on a top level.”
After Memphis’ Mike Conley answered to tie the game again, Booker used all of the explosion in his legs he could muster to quickly rise up over Garrett Temple and give the Suns a two-point lead with 1.7 seconds left.
Memphis missed the potential game-winner, a desperate heave by Conley. Booker finished with 25 points and seven assists.
Another way the Suns pulled out a victory with those turnover numbers was the performance from Memphis’ stars Conley and Marc Gasol. The two inexplicably combined to shoot 5-for-29 from the field. Those putrid percentages maintained throughout the game, and somehow Memphis led nearly all the way until Booker’s heroics.
What those two shots will overshadow was an eight-minute stretch Booker had to sit with five fouls from the mid-third quarter to the early fourth quarter.
Key minutes from Trevor Ariza and Mikal Bridges kept the Suns in the game at that time and helped make up for the loss of T.J. Warren, who missed the game due to low back spasms.
Ariza had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists while Bridges made five of his six shots for 14 points.
Bridges stayed hot from the perimeter when Booker returned with 9:45 left in the fourth.
The rookie played his signature pesky defense while burying threes. He hit three deep balls in the fourth, including a professional shooter look over two closeouts at a huge point in the game.
“To be playing crunch time minutes like that in your rookie season and performing — it’s really special,” Booker said of Bridges.
“I love being on the floor with him. He does everything it takes to win. He spaces the floor, he defends, he’s long and lanky, he has really good instincts that not a lot of people have and he’s well-coached at Villanova. They know how to win.”
“A lot of the things that Mikal is doing you can’t put in the stats,” Kokoskov said. “When he makes shots, it’s obvious, but he’s (a) very reliable player.”
With Josh Jackson’s poor play to start the year and Bridges almost always impressing when he plays, it won’t be long until Bridges overtakes the former No. 4 pick in the rotation like he did in the second half on Sunday.
Booker can relate. He didn’t play at the start of his rookie season but continued to take advantage of opportunities like Bridges to earn more minutes the rest of the way.
“That shows perseverance,” Booker said. “When you’re that talented and that good of a player it’s hard to keep you off the court.”
The Suns picking up win number two of the season was obviously a big deal to break the losing streak, but more importantly, it came in a game they shouldn’t have really won at all. That’s something well-coached teams that play hard do.
“We needed one, we needed this one as a group, as a unit for many, many reasons,” Kokoskov said.
“It’s new life around here,” Booker said. “New energy. You see a lot of smiles. Hopefully, we like this feeling and want to come out and play that much harder versus Brooklyn.”