EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s shot, Chris Paul’s excellence steal Suns a win in Dallas

Feb 1, 2021, 10:47 PM | Updated: 10:55 pm

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) has the ball tipped away by Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (...

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) has the ball tipped away by Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

(AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

Wins for the Phoenix Suns like Monday’s 109-108 tight squeeze over the Dallas Mavericks are what it’s all about. That’s what a team can do with two extremely high-level players.

The Suns’ defense was below average for three quarters, the offense produced only 19 assists and the team just looked like it didn’t have it in ’em.

But they had their All-Star backcourt playing outstanding basketball, and that’s what mattered the most to dictate the outcome of the game.

Chris Paul had another magnificent outing, as the Point God has firmly planted his flag in Phoenix. He had a game-high 34 points and nine assists, plus another nine rebounds and two steals on 14-of-20 shooting.

Devin Booker returned after missing four games for a sore hamstring, and while it took him a bit to settle in, boy did he ever. He scored 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. That included the game-winning three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left.

“He’s got the heart to take those shots,” head coach Monty Williams said of Booker. “When you have the courage to take ’em and deal with the results, those are things I look for when you’re drawing up a play or you’re working with someone like Devin.”

Best of all, Paul and Booker played the entire fourth quarter and immediately established a strong level of effort defensively that played a big role in the Suns stealing a win.

Phoenix right now is a defense-first team, entering the night with the No. 5 defensive rating in the NBA. It’s a part of their identity as a team, so it was unusual to see them giving up so many easy baskets around the rim. A few of those came off offensive rebounds, and while Dallas only had seven, the timeliness of those putbacks stung.

Booker, Paul and Williams all pointed that out after the game.

“Man thank goodness Book made that shot because I’m gonna be all over film for all the boxouts,” Paul said.

After an ugly opening 18 minutes for both teams, Dallas found its stride offensively and scored 51 points in the next 18. The momentum kept trending in the Mavericks’ direction, but the Suns’ innate ability to hang around in games continued in this one, somehow being down just five through three quarters.

With Phoenix trailing by two with 2:30 to go, Booker or Paul scored on the next three possessions. A crucial Deandre Ayton foul we’ll get to in a minute followed the last make, and Booker didn’t convert on his next midrange attempt. Dallas missed a three-pointer the next trip down, leaving the Suns with the ball down two and 26 seconds left.

Williams and Paul didn’t call a timeout, and Paul got a terrific look quickly slicing the defense. Paul, however, was too open, as he faked a pass to a help defender that wasn’t there and butchered a layup at the rim with no one on him. Ayton’s putback attempt was blocked and the ball went out of bounds off Dallas, setting up Booker’s game-winner.

Ayton had a complex night, doing his job on the glass with 17 rebounds, six of which were offensive. But the big fella had a handful of blown defensive rotations, misses around the rim and bad catches on passes.

Ayton had a three-play sequence in the fourth quarter when he didn’t switch to give up a layup, wasn’t looking for a Paul pass and then left his man wide open for a three-pointer off that turnover. Later on, Ayton’s loose ball foul off Booker’s make with 55 seconds left to tie the game gave Dallas two free points that ultimately could have been the difference in the game had Booker missed at the end.

These types of detached performances from Ayton can be particularly backbreaking when the Suns need the opposite. The pressure on him and the two lead ball-handlers only increases when the supporting cast built around shooting can’t hit a shot.

All the Suns’ players besides Booker and Paul shot a combined 5-of-20 from three-point range.

Frank Kaminsky’s 11 points made him the team’s third-leading scorer. The wing trio of Mikal Bridges (4-of-12 shooting), Cam Johnson (3-of-8) and Jae Crowder (1-of-9) all had rough nights. Ayton shot 5-of-12 for 10 points. Luckily, the Suns’ one-two punch was shining.

It was the first game of the season where the duo of Booker and Paul played great at the same time, a scary proposition for the rest of the league considering the Suns are still off to an 11-8 start.

While the on-court chemistry is still getting there, it sounds like everything is there that needs to be for the two to flourish together.

“It’s nice playing alongside a guy who pushes you,” Paul told NBATV. “I trust him, he trusts me. When I’m passing up shots, he on my head, ‘Shoot that, C! Shoot that, C!'”

Booker expanded on that:

“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “We both hold each other accountable. We both have that similar approach where we want to win at all costs. We’re not worried about hurting anybody’s feelings. Our team or their team.

“We’re going out there to win basketball games and whatever it takes to do that. I’m learning from him every day. He’s been in every situation that I want to get to. I have the cheat code of being alongside him, his backcourt mate. From on the court to off the court, just everything he does — I’m a sponge to it.”

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Devin Booker’s shot, Chris Paul’s excellence steal Suns a win in Dallas