EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s return boosts Suns to 31-point beatdown of Hornets

Dec 19, 2021, 9:51 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2021, 8:15 am

PHOENIX — Monty Williams said prior to Sunday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets that he hopes his Phoenix Suns are able to use some of the positive play without Devin Booker (left hamstring strain) as a way to be even better when he returns.

That sure came to fruition against Charlotte, as the Suns smacked ’em 137-106.

Phoenix’s offense was doing OK while Booker was absent but clearly missed the way in which he does what he does inside of the Suns’ quick-hitting system. His arrival in the lineup on Sunday after being out for seven games was a giant boost, one that blew the doors off the Hornets.

The main thing Williams saw was guys like Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson remaining aggressive with Booker back, something that’s easier for players like that to establish when the team’s leading shot taker is out for a few weeks.

And, really, it was everyone keeping their foot on the gas.

The Suns ended up with nine players in double figures and no one reached 20 points, their fifth win this season in which the latter has occurred. All five starters had 14-16 points and the team had 33 assists.

“All of our guys have shown that they’re willing passers and we have a we-score mentality,” Williams said. “That’s just who we are. We score, we defend. And I think when you play that way, it creates a lot of opportunities to shoot the ball from range or attack the paint.

“And I think guys are spacing a lot better than we did earlier, like the first couple of weeks of the season. We didn’t have the conditioning to do what we’re doing right now. We have to understand that and appreciate it and keep it going.”

The Suns led 37-15 through a first quarter in which Charlotte shot 1-of-11 from three-point range. By the early second quarter, Phoenix had knocked down 10 and finished the game with a season-high 20. The Suns improved to 19-1 in games they’ve reached at least 10 made three-pointers.

While Booker’s four triples were with a hand in his face, his felt like just about the only ones against a Hornets defense that was multiple steps out of position all night.

Because of Charlotte’s horrific shooting, it quickly escalated things to a Suns (24-5) advantage as big as 29 in the second quarter and 36 in the third.

The Hornets (16-16) didn’t have a run in them at the start of the fourth quarter to at least force Williams to put his starters back in, so it was another good bit of rest for that group in the Suns’ second straight comfortable win.

It was the type of effort that showed why it wasn’t a problem for the Suns to keep winning with Booker sidelined.

When Booker was asked what he noticed the most from the bench over seven games, a period he said he learned a lot from, Booker said, “That we’re a damned good team.”

“Not like I didn’t know it before but the machine keeps moving. Even the games that we’ve had people out, somebody steps up and jumps right into that role,” he added.

Booker said he made sure that his hamstring was “extra good” before coming on the court, knowing with his past history of hamstring injuries that it can linger if he’s not careful. He came in on the Suns’ off-day Friday and got some 3-on-3/4-on-4 run to test everything out before going through Saturday’s practice as a full participant.

“Just checking all the boxes of being on the court sprinting at full speed, getting some contact, changing directions,” Booker said. “Like how you guys asked me could I feel it or was I thinking about it at all — getting to the point where you’re not thinking about it.”

Booker ended up with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists on 6-of-15 shooting across 26 minutes he was a game-high +32 during.

Deandre Ayton’s 15 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and three blocks in just 24 minutes was the best individual performance. It’s the third straight game Ayton has been phenomenal in.

JaVale McGee had a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes while Bridges’ 16 points made it four of his last five games that he’s reached double figures for.

On that McGee note, he’s now been the Suns’ top scorer in three of the last five games, all wins. Phoenix has had eight players hold that spot this season already.

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