EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s 52-point inferno leads Suns’ best effort of season in win vs. Pelicans

Jan 19, 2024, 8:28 PM | Updated: 8:32 pm

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after a foul during the second quarter of an NBA game ag...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after a foul during the second quarter of an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on January 19, 2024 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Much was made after the Phoenix Suns’ incredible comeback victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday in regards to whether it would be the team’s turning point of the season.

If you said yes, you couldn’t have hoped for a better first game after it than Friday’s 123-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Devin Booker celebrated the halfway point of the season with his first scoring inferno of the season, putting up a season-high 52 points.

He shot 18-for-30 from the field and added four rebounds and five assists with one turnover.

Booker put up 25 points in the first quarter, becoming the second player this season to do that, joining former teammate Mikal Bridges. Explosions in the first quarter were something to expect from Booker before this season, but after taking on the role of point guard with a whole lot of firepower around him, his scoring aggression has understandably taken a bit of a dip to begin games. Friday, however, was the second time in the last four games he reached double digits in the opening dozen minutes for five occurrences this year. That follows a total of 49 the two years prior.

He found the same rhythm to start the second half as well, amounting to 20 points over that time. That made him the first guy since Damian Lillard’s 71-point outburst last season to string together multiple 20-point quarters in the same game, per Stathead.

New Orleans (25-18) has a case as the Suns’ (23-18) biggest rival. There’s the first-round playoff series two postseasons ago, all the chatter from Jose Alvarado over that time, the Zion Williamson dunk at the end of regulation last season and more minor instances that added up over time. The proof in the pudding was Booker getting booed during starting lineup introductions, and he’s always the type of guy to get up for these kinds of matchups as it is.

His last game versus the Pelicans resulted in 58 points, so that’s 110 total from Booker against them in the last two meetings.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this is the main and sole takeaway from the contest.

Given it was against good competition, on the road and most importantly consistent throughout, this was Phoenix’s best performance of the season.

All of the defensive intensity and pace that pressured the Sacramento Kings in Tuesday’s comeback win carried over. The Suns were up 13 after one quarter and extended it to 17 at halftime. The Big 3 were all locked in, producing 57 of Phoenix’s 69 points, led by Booker’s 32.

A great defensive gameplan on Williamson with a lot of sound, quick flashes from other defenders helped contain the Pelicans’ multiple great scorers, and because of all the misses, the Suns were able to run off those. And when it wasn’t purely in transition, they showed intent with getting into their actions so they could explore all the options through a possession. Great look after great look was generated.

There was some slight slippage at the end of the second quarter before the Suns picked up right where they led off in the third quarter with a 15-6 start, and Booker contributed 10 of those 15 points to reach 42 with over 20 minutes of game time still left to hit his season high and bump the lead to 28. A deserved shoutout goes to Jusuf Nurkic for his playmaking over this specific spurt too.

All of this was the compounded pressure that wore down New Orleans’ focus and left it unable to catch up, all while the Suns remained in a great tempo offensively to maximize their threats. Considering the inconsistency for Phoenix over this season, it was a tremendous job to still have a good process on both ends of the floor with a large advantage. There was not even a hint of a fourth-quarter rally for New Orleans, another point of progress the Suns can take away from Friday.

An absolute fireball from the Big 3 will overshadow what was a very, very good two-way game out of Nurkic. His defense and passing was terrific all night. He amounted to five points, 15 rebounds and a season-high nine assists.

Kevin Durant’s 26 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks along with Beal’s 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists rounded out what was also the best the Big 3 has played this season. Durant’s defense continues to be rapidly improving in the last week while the job Beal did defending Williamson was a tall task he was ready for.

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