EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s 62 nullified by Suns’ inability to stop Pacers in loss

Jan 26, 2024, 7:50 PM | Updated: 7:57 pm

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles the ball while defended by Bennedict Mathurin #00 of t...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles the ball while defended by Bennedict Mathurin #00 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on January 26, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns had four quarters to put together a good enough defensive stretch across just a few minutes to win Friday night’s 133-131 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Despite how much they had proven capable of that over a seven-game winning streak, the shutdown to swing the game never came.

And it was still necessary after Devin Booker posted a season-high 62 points in Indianapolis, giving him his fourth scoring record for an arena.

It was the fifth straight game a Sun registered at least 40 points and Booker’s third in the last five games reaching 46. He is now one of nine players in NBA history with multiple 60-point games. And it was the latest first-quarter flurry for him to get going with 29 of those 62.

Booker now leads the NBA in 20-point quarters with four. All four have come in the last eight days.

Booker’s first points came via two free throws at 9:36 remaining and he then went on to make his next six shot attempts across a period of just 3:21 for 17 of those 29 points. He actually had two opportunities with a minute left to reach the 30-point threshold but turned it over and then made the right basketball play on a pass that led to a Suns bucket.

Phoenix managed 40 points not only in the opening period but in the second quarter as well. It shot 66.7% from the field. Despite that, the Suns were only up 10. A lot of that had to do with 11 turnovers and Indiana’s 11 offensive rebounds, letting the Pacers attempt a dozen more shots.

Indiana kept hanging around as mediocre defense on either side kept the score in check.

In the mid-third quarter, Bradley Beal was in a help position spot on a top-of-the-key possession for Myles Turner and the Pacers big man put the ball on the deck for a drive. Beal had a read on it and got over to take a charge. As Turner picked up his dribble, he brought the ball high in a traditional basketball move. This put his elbow in a position to clock Beal right in the face on the offensive foul.

Beal stayed down on the floor for over a minute and was bleeding. That appeared to be coming from his nose.

He returned in the final frame but at some point in the third quarter, center Jusuf Nurkic injured his left thumb and was ruled out shortly after.

When Booker checked back in for the fourth quarter at a little over eight minutes to go, Phoenix was up six.

The theme of the game continued. Neither team could sustain enough stops in a row to make up ground. That worked in favor for the Suns just enough to remain ahead by four with 2:35 left.

Booker missed an open 3 as the shot clock expired and then an Andrew Nembhard floater made it 129-127.

With the Suns’ five-out lineup in for the last 4:57, a Grayson Allen drive off a hot closeout let him get to the lane where he was called an offensive foul and was upheld after a Suns challenge.

Nembhard knocked down a midrange jumper to tie it the other way down.

For Phoenix’s next go, Beal soared in to rebound a Durant midrange miss that was blocked, which let Booker be in a position to knock his down to put the Suns back in front.

Nembhard scored yet again, and with 29 ticks on the clock, Durant missed a 3 on the wing. Like his last shot, this came after an extra pass from someone open in the corner that should have taken the open 3. It was Eric Gordon the trip prior and Beal on this one.

The Pacers with a chance to take the lead didn’t call a timeout. A drive was stuffed by Booker with excellent verticality before Pascal Siakam was alone to grab the miss, only to goof the finish. But that rebound was grabbed by Obi Toppin who put in the game-winning bucket with three seconds left.

Booker got a clean release off the sideline out of bounds. He slipped on the catch, got up and managed to toss up a look that he was debatably fouled on without a whistle.

It’s a bad loss for the blown lead and also for it coming against a Pacers team still without Tyrese Haliburton (left hamstring strain injury management). The Suns gave up 84 points in the paint.

Siakam put up 31 points for the Pacers, getting 22 in support from Nembhard and Andrew Nesmith. Toppin’s 23 off the bench were big time as well.

Any missed time for Nurkic would be a large problem for the Suns. His contributions on both ends, most notably with his “hub” activity as a playmaker in the offense, are irreplaceable. And even if they were, Phoenix’s reserve 5 minutes have been spotty all season.

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