EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker fixes everything again, Suns stomp Timberwolves

Nov 15, 2023, 10:35 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2023, 7:29 am

Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker...

Kevin Durant #35, Bradley Beal #3 and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns watch from the bench during the second half of the NBA game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Footprint Center on November 15, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 133-115.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — We should try handing Devin Booker assorted problems and see how he’d solve it. I don’t even question whether he could or not. My car now makes this weird noise when I start it up. The door to the bedroom keeps jamming. Our air conditioning unit is withering.

He’d figure out how to fix everything. That man might as well have had a toolbox with him on the court Wednesday with his return from a five-game absence curing the Phoenix Suns on the court and ailing the vibes off it in a 133-115 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Booker through a minutes restriction finished with 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, four rebounds, five assists and two turnovers in 26 minutes.

With Minnesota (8-3) playing better basketball than just about anybody, Booker was in complete control facing the NBA’s top defense.

“The pop was there, just playing with pace,” Kevin Durant said. “That’s what we need. It’s good to have our point guard back.”

Those who haven’t been fortunate enough to witness his progression over the years will have nights like Wednesday watching Booker orchestrate and believe this is a gigantic leap from the ninth-year guard, but he’s had this in him for a while now.

With that said, he has expectedly gotten better again and the stars aligned for him to showcase it this year in a role running the show.

His pacing in dissecting the defense was masterful, switching speeds to create the gaps he wanted before capitalizing. Rudy Gobert, one of the greatest rim protectors of all time, has come back to Defensive Player of the Year form and you wouldn’t have guessed it with the way Booker broke down the anchor.

Coming off missing five games because of a right calf strain, Booker was +17 when sharing the floor with Gobert over 17:40 of gametime. Gobert was -25 for the game overall and Booker a net even.

Best of all, in what we call the Steve Nash Effect around these parts, Booker made everything much easier on his teammates. Durant was able to score within pockets of the game, his preference as opposed to dominating it on the ball like he has been forced to do at times this season. Phoenix’s glaring turnover problems were gone, with only three of the nine coming in the first half, and all of those came either right at the start or end of it.

“Adding Book out there just makes everything easier for everybody,” Durant said.

Those factors together put Phoenix (5-6) up 14 in the mid-first quarter, a lead that grew to 20 in the second after Minnesota initially cut the deficit to six by the end of the opening period. The Suns were quickly up as many as 28 in the third quarter it reached 110 points at the end of.

Minnesota was just coming off a hard-fought win the night prior in the Bay against a very shorthanded Golden State Warriors squad, eking it out in crunch time, placing itself in another position where it had to really scratch and claw to win.

That type of fight didn’t materialize on Wednesday, even with the Suns’ gigantic struggles in the fourth quarter recently.

Durant added 31 points (11-for-15) of his own with six rebounds, six assists and two turnovers.

On the night it was expected the Suns’ Big 3 of Bradley Beal, Booker and Durant would play together for the first time this regular season, Beal (low back spasms) was a late scratch, putting a damper on the excitement in the building Booker helped turn right back around.

Beal was initially listed as probable and reportedly a go to give the Big 3 its debut. He made his first appearance this season three games ago after the back kept him out for the season’s initial seven and hasn’t looked like himself yet. Head coach Frank Vogel said Beal tweaked his back in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which Beal continued to play in. Vogel said Beal woke up with some “residual tightness” on Wednesday that didn’t loosen up by an hour before tip off.

This marks the second time plans for Beal’s availability had to change due to his back, going back to the preseason. Given that, the injury looks to be quite touch and go at the moment and one Beal isn’t able to play through without some level of discomfort. Phoenix surely got Beal to the point where any re-injury risk was as low as possible, and he was only able to make it three games. Until we see Beal play grimace-free and avoid any flareups over a decent-sized stretch of games, it’s a concern.

Even with Beal and Booker on minutes restrictions, the matchup would have been a fascinating one to kick it off, forcing the Timberwolves’ jumbo frontcourt of Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns to defend more on the perimeter and challenging someone like 36-year-old six-footer Mike Conley to take on a premium assignment like Beal.

The inverse was how Phoenix would handle that size, a dynamic we still got to see quite prominently after the Suns opted to start Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon. The Suns didn’t have many issues with it even through a 16-5 disadvantage in offensive rebounding, and more importantly, had tons of floor space thanks to the extra shooting.

Phoenix’s supporting cast featured a few great outings, including of the bounce-back variety from Josh Okogie via his 12 points (3-for-3 on 3s) after missing 12 straight triples in the last six games. Gordon (15 points) and Allen (14) also knocked down a trio of 3s and Drew Eubanks provided 13 points off the bench and the poster of the season thus far.

The Suns did a fantastic job executing their gameplan to limit the dynamic Anthony Edwards, cutting off his space with bigs playing high on screening actions and nailing the prerequisite rotations on the back side. He wasn’t able to locate room to maneuver all night, a nod to Vogel’s aptitude defensively and postseason worries for how Gobert-Towns works in the best environments. Okogie and Jordan Goodwin played big roles in keeping Edwards down to a season-low 13 points on 4-for-16 from the field and Vogel shouted out the bigs specifically as part of that effort too.

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