EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker leads shorthanded Suns to 7th straight victory in win vs. Knicks

Nov 26, 2023, 8:05 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns makes a three-point basket with 1.7 seconds left in the fourth ...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns makes a three-point basket with 1.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter during the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on November 26, 2023 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns escaped Madison Square Garden with a 116-113 victory over the New York Knicks, their seventh consecutive win and best of the season.

Phoenix was missing Grayson Allen (illness), Bradley Beal (low back strain) and Kevin Durant (right foot soreness), two members of the Big 3 and its best player outside of that trio through 16 games. The Knicks were fully healthy.

This required Devin Booker to get out his shoulder padding to take on all the extra weight of carrying his team, a piece of equipment that is worn down at this point with how often he has been asked to don it over the years, and he still gets the job done.

Booker scored 28 points on a rather inefficient night for himself, 10-for-25. He dished out 11 assists on just two turnovers in his point guard role, in addition to seven more hockey assists (a.k.a. making the pass to set up the assist), five rebounds and two blocks. Phoenix in a three-point win was +15 when Booker was in.

A game the Suns held a 14-point lead in late in the first quarter and got back up to 13 in the mid-third quarter stayed within two possessions for the last 17 minutes.

Jalen Brunson had 20 of his 35 points in the first half while Julius Randle added 17 of his 28 in the third quarter to keep New York in it.

After several contributions from other Suns we will get to, Booker was double-teamed early on the majority of his possessions, and the Knicks’ effort with under a minute left down two forced a shot clock violation at 41 seconds left.

Brunson squeaked free at the end of the shot clock on the other end to tie the game with a middy and 21 seconds remaining.

After a Suns timeout, Booker waited out the clock 40 feet out on the left wing. With 10 seconds left, the “run and jump” defense Booker has seen for a half-decade came in pursuit to chase him off the ball. Booker passed to Jordan Goodwin on his right, and while the help defender retreated, Booker ran toward Goodwin to get it back on a handoff. Off that, Booker went west-to-east in order to get downhill enough away from the double. He found just enough room on the right wing, where he rose up and drilled the game-winning 3 at 1.1 ticks to go.

The bucket was Booker’s sixth in his career to take the lead with three seconds or less remaining, tied for the second most in the NBA since he entered the league in 2015, per Stathead. He is tied with Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, while one off from the leader, Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan.

Brunson’s 32-footer went in-and-out to seal the deal.

A shooting performance below Booker’s standards and big stretches from Brunson and Randle rapidly shrunk down the Suns’ margin of error. Without that trio of injured players, they would need a great outing from Eric Gordon and to hit enough 3s off the extra attention Booker was inevitably going to get. They got just enough.

Gordon’s season-high 25 points and six 3s led the charge but terrific outings for Jordan Goodwin (14 points, two 3s) and Nassir Little (11 points, three 3s) made up for 11 of the Suns’ 16 triples (16-for-38, 42.1%).

Goodwin also racked up seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in 29 minutes, his second straight great game of the road trip. Little has really taken advantage of his first real crack at consistent playing time over the last five games, cementing a role in the wing rotation.

Head coach Frank Vogel kept backup big Chimezie Metu in the rotation after he filled in for the injured Drew Eubanks the last two games. With Eubanks’ return, Metu slid to the 4, where his terrific athleticism gives him a chance to hang in there defensively while opening up room for his developing 3-point shot. The sixth-year USC product is sort of a tweener in that way, where he’s not quite big enough to protect the rim as a 5 but lacks the perimeter skills today’s power forwards have to have.

Metu at the 4 gave Phoenix another good rebounder with size, and because Metu’s spending time out there versus other reserves, he isn’t really going to be put in problematic positions defensively as long as he executes his help assignments. He did, and on the weak side of dribble drives, Metu nailed a 3 and also had a sweet two-dribble floater around a closeout.

Metu knocked down both of his attempts from deep for eight points and grabbed four rebounds.

Phoenix’s defense was a tad inconsistent but overall was very good for the game. Jusuf Nurkic has had a lot to do with that. Yes, his deficiencies will show and we’ll see how much he gets targeted in the postseason. But he’s been reliable and borderline good on defense over the last couple of weeks. He contributed eight points, 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and four blocks in 33 minutes.

Even though Keita Bates-Diop (0-for-5 from 3) and Josh Okogie (0-of-3) couldn’t make a 3-pointer as starters, they combined for a handful of impact plays, including three of Phoenix’s 18 offensive rebounds. The Suns with just Booker among their roster of primary initiators limited the turnovers to 11 and racked up 27 assists.

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