Suns’ team effort, Booker’s star performance make it 3 wins in a row
Monty Williams and Devin Booker weren’t willing to say in their media availability how good Tuesday’s 117-115 win over the Los Angeles Clippers felt, but scenes from the Phoenix Suns’ locker room told us what we all knew already.
“We still want to make that noise,” Booker said. “We want to be the under the radar team that just comes in, works hard and plays hard. And that’s what we did tonight. So it put us in that situation to have a chance to win at the end of the game and what happened, happened.”
What happened was Booker’s impossible game-winner, facing double-teams at three different points before hitting a shot over two of the best perimeter defenders on the planet.
That was the ending to a game the Suns thoroughly controlled, one in which Booker had 35 points, four rebounds and eight assists.
It was evident that Booker was locked in from the get-go, as was Ricky Rubio, who’s All-Star-level play in the bubble continued. The Spaniard had 18 points and four assists, leading the push for the first quarter.
The Clippers were fresh off a win on Saturday in which they made 16 three-pointers in the first half, so it wasn’t surprising to see them continuing to go back to the well, chucking up jumpers left, right and center. That was all the little eek of an opening a relentless Suns team needed.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were 6-of-19 combined through the first half, and a fair amount of credit should go to the Suns’ defense that was going to make them work if they wanted to go to the basket.
They did in the second half, scoring 19 points combined in the third quarter.
An 8-0 run in the third quarter to tie the game came via one Marcus Morris mid-range jumper and then three separate trips to the foul line for Morris and George, a moment it seemed the Clippers sensed their problems and pushed for the bucket in the bonus.
Through Booker matching the duo when he could, it was also a complete team effort from the Suns for the third straight game.
“Our guys just grew up tonight,” Williams said. “We played against a team that could possibly win a championship and they sent everything at us.”
Backup point guard Cameron Payne continued to hit shots when the team needed them, providing 12 ginormous points off the bench. Dario Saric added 13 and has arguably been the Suns’ most consistent player in Orlando, with his move out of the starting lineup giving the second unit some sense of reliability it desperately required to have any real success.
When the game was tied in the third with 4:58 left after that 8-0 LA run, Payne hit a jumper and then Booker made a three before setting one up for Frank Kaminsky. An offensive rebound off a Booker miss got Saric two free throws and a Booker conversion off a Payne dish was followed by Cam Johnson’s three-ball assisted by Booker.
Those 15 points in just under five minutes saved what would been the Clippers finally having a breakthrough, a slamming the door shut of sorts by Phoenix to let the opposition know they were really going to have to earn this win if they wanted it.
The Clippers’ star duo kept coming, though, adding another 14 in the fourth. Leonard finished with 27 points and George had 23.
When Rubio and Booker rested to open the fourth quarter, it was 10 points scored by Johnson and Saric for the first four minutes that kept everything afloat before the starting backcourt returned.
They took the reigns from there, with the pair either assisting or scoring on all final 12 Suns points.
“We just kept going after it, kept chipping,” Deandre Ayton said. “Kept chipping and chipping and it went our way.”
Phoenix shot 17-of-32 (53.1%) from three-point range, with seven of nine players making at least one. Booker and Rubio had a 9-of-13 mark on their own.
It’s a fascinating turning point in the season, because with this being the win of the season, how do they avoid the comedown against a good Indiana Pacers team on Thursday?
Well, by doing what they say they’ve been doing, which makes this another test for what the team’s mantra has been since they arrived at Walt Disney World and has created a 3-0 start.
“When it comes to the league, I still don’t think we’re getting the respect, but we don’t care,” Ayton said after 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “We’re coming to play. We have nothing to lose. There’s no cool clothes on. We just go out there and play for each other.”
“We didn’t have 8-0 on our mind. That hasn’t been our target,” Booker said.
“People can say it’s a nothing to lose mentality but we don’t look at it like that. We have games to lose, games to win.”
Booker leads the charge in that team mentality after the biggest shot of his career.
“I’m happy for him, I am, but he’d be the first one to tell you — we’re not done,” Williams said. “We got more work. We’re not gonna rest in this moment. It’ll be fun for the next 20 minutes but I guarantee you he’s already getting his mind right for the next game.”