Devin Booker’s elite PG play continues with career-high 15 assists, Suns beat Jazz

Nov 17, 2023, 11:04 PM | Updated: 11:28 pm

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives past Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Utah Jazz during the first ...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives past Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Utah Jazz during the first half of an NBA In-Season Tournament game at Delta Center on November 17, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Devin Booker’s supreme start to the season as the Phoenix Suns’ point guard continued in Utah with a career-high 15 assists in a 131-128 win over the Jazz on Friday, the first for Phoenix in the in-season tournament.

Booker has proven every season he gets noticeably better, and thanks to that development the two-guard has also grown into one of the world’s best point guards. So, with him actually playing the position this year and that guarantee he would improve again it seemed logical to believe this type of “breakout” if you even want to call it that was on tap for Booker in a full year of “Point Book.”

He’s really seeing the floor in a way differently from most right now, knowing the way to shift the dimensions of it to get what he wants, which is just a good shot. He doesn’t care who takes it. He did so on Friday with just one turnover, channeling his own Chris Paul, becoming just the eighth player in franchise history with 15-plus assists and one or fewer turnovers in a game, per Stathead. Booker added 24 points.

Booker and Kevin Durant either scored or assisted all 14 of the Suns’ field goals in the first quarter and a tremendous game from Durant as well with 38 points (15-for-22), nine rebounds, nine assists and one turnover should have meant a dominant Phoenix victory given the offensive firepower.

But it was hard to get away from an adjective like lazy when describing the defensive performance in this one, as several open dunks, layups and 3s for Utah were via missed rotation by a Sun when they either weren’t moving with the required urgency or not moving at all. Utah’s in the running for having the least talented roster in the league but allowing that against anyone can let players get in a rhythm enough to maintain an offensive pace headed by two MVP candidates.

Phoenix (6-6) jumped out to a 14-point lead in that aforementioned first quarter but it ended with the Suns up just three and Utah (4-8) continued to hang around, aided by the good looks, eventually leading at points in the game.

With 3:12 left in the third quarter and the Suns down four, head coach Frank Vogel inserted wing Nassir Little into the rotation alongside Booker, Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Goodwin and Drew Eubanks. The trio of wings specifically make their mark defensively and it was a great move by Vogel that located enough of a defensive spark to snap the Suns out of it. They quickly got back up by eight under two minutes into the final frame.

The Jazz kept scoring enough to stay within range before back-to-back Durant buckets put Phoenix up 124-115 with 3:11 left. That’s the type of edge a good-to-great team will normally use to put away the pesky bad squad but the Jazz roared back with eight straight in under two minutes to make it a one-point game.

Durant drew two free throws he made with 52 ticks to go, and after Utah answered with a pair of their own free tosses, he drilled a nasty pull-up 3 to effectively ice the game at 129-125 with 18 seconds remaining.

For good measure, Bates-Diop had an outstanding block on Utah’s Lauri Markkanen to seal it on the next possession.

Durant has quite simply been Kevin Durant this year, looking the part of one of the best to ever do it and not losing any of that form anytime soon at the age of 35. If you were not a viewer of Durant much prior to his arrival in the Valley and were a bit taken aback by comments last year about how he wasn’t quite up to par with what we normally see from him, this is what that was in reference to.

His phenomenal form throughout kept Phoenix in possession of the game when its poor defense through nearly three quarters could have had it chasing a tough one on the road.

Bates-Diop is making it harder and harder for Vogel to keep the shooting of Yuta Watanabe out there in the wing rotation, as he’s put together a good last week-and-a-half of effort with impact plays on both ends. It was seven points, three rebounds, two steals and three blocks for him in Utah.

Phoenix only had eight turnovers and produced 35 assists, another good sign that Booker’s presence will help solve the turnover issues 10 games in.

Drew Eubanks provided 11 points off the bench and closed the last minute over Jusuf Nurkic, who had a rough night defensively with how some of his more passive coverages were getting sliced up by Utah. Nurkic did go 7-for-7 from the foul line with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four turnovers. Vogel also went with a frontcourt of Bates-Diop and Durant in the second half for a chunk of minutes. Worth noting!

It was one of those Jordan Clarkson nights. The heat-check flamethrower guard managed 37 points to keep Utah in it.

The Suns are now 1-1 in the in-season tournament and will likely need to win out to have a chance to top their group and advance, which could come down to a tiebreaker of point differential.

Phoenix was again without Bradley Beal (low back strain), who will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

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