“That is the true definition of ‘NBA 2K.’ ” – Deandre Ayton.
Devin Booker was indeed the truth when it mattered in leading Phoenix to a win it desperately needed.
In his second game back from the hamstring injury, Booker nailed consecutive jumpers in the final 30 seconds with the latter one being the game-winner with 1.7 seconds left to give the Suns a 102-100 thriller over Memphis before 13,074 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The win snapped a seven-game losing skid.
“It just feels good to win, man,” Booker said. “… We’ve been stressing that we needed that game where we get a win and it’d change the energy around here. Hopefully this win will give us new life.”
Going 1-on-1 against Garrett Temple up top, Booker, playing with five fouls, dribbled left, created space and elevated to knock down the 17-footer to complete a clutch 14-point fourth quarter and 25-point night.
“Yep, that’s the definition of playing ‘NBA 2K,’ ” Ayton continued, “Book, he kind of like told me he got it. I was coming up to set a screen. It’s what we were doing all game. That’s our bread and butter, but he just caught fire.”
Mike Conley missed a rushed 3 at the buzzer that would’ve handed Phoenix (2-7) a loss that felt worse than even that 30-point debacle against San Antonio at home.
The Suns had responded to that embarrassing defeat with a better effort in their loss to Toronto in Booker’s return from injury. They seemed to gain momentum from that game and felt confident going into this one despite losing by 21 to the Grizzlies in Memphis last month.
“We owed them from the last time we played them,” Suns wing Josh Jackson said.
Phoenix didn’t have Booker for that first meeting. After Friday’s loss to the Raptors, Booker gave props to the Grizzlies (5-3), but said this was a “winnable game.”
Booker made sure they came out on top.
“Garrett did a good job on him, but he made some tough shots,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They were contested shots. They weren’t open shots so you have to take your hat off to him.”
First-year coach Igor Kokoskov didn’t call a timeout after Conley’s floater tied the game at 100-100 with 25.7 seconds left.
Phoenix already knew what it wanted to do – and didn’t want to give Memphis time to figure it out.
“Every decision takes a risk, but one thing that was always a debate with my good friend Quin Snyder, who says, ‘Don’t let them organize,’ ” Kokoskov said about his last boss at Utah.
“We knew what was going to happen.”
They were going to run a mid pick-and-roll or a slip-and-isolation with Booker having the option to go either way.
“If we stop the game, we call timeout, we’d give them a chance to organize and change the matchups,” Kokoskov continued.
The Suns got the shot from the guy they wanted to shoot.
“That’s his time,” Suns point guard Isaiah Canaan said. “We try to get out the way and let him do what he do. Close the game for us.”
Booker got some major help from rookie Mikal Bridges.
The first-round pick out of Villanova went 3-for-3 from 3 in the fourth quarter with his final one tying the game at 98-98 with 2:27 remaining.
“It felt good,” said Bridges, who finished with 14 points, 4 of 5 from distance. “I was happy to be out there and help my team try to win. That’s the only thing I care about when I’m out there.”
Booker and Kokoskov said Bridges brings more to the table than scoring as he may prove to be a lockdown defender because of his length and instincts.
However, with TJ Warren out with back spasms, Phoenix needed someone to knock down shots.
Bridges did in crunch time.
“I love being on the floor with him,” Booker said. “He does everything it takes to win.”
Trevor Ariza scored 16, Canaan added 13, and Phoenix clamped Memphis down to 38.1 percent shooting in the fourth. Conley went 1 of 8 as he and Marc Gasol went a combined 0 of 5 from 3.
For the game, the Suns limited Memphis to 47.4 percent to mark only the second time this season they’ve held their opponent under 50.
The other time? The season opener they won over Dallas.
All that factored in the outcome, but bottom line, Booker needs to play great all the time for the Suns to make that jump and contend for postseason play.
“For us to be a successful team, he’s got to play on top level,” Kokoskov said.
Technical swing of momentum
Bickerstaff chalked up this loss as losing focus.
“Got nonchalant and this is an unforgiving league,” Bickerstaff said. “Most nights, you get what you deserve. I didn’t think we played with a sense of urgency for long enough stretches. You could tell that team was hungry. You can tell they were going to do anything to get a win.”
Dillon Brooks seemed to lose focus in the fourth.
He was playing great, but then reacted to a foul when guarding Booker.
On the next possession, Brooks got to the rim, as he’d done all night, scored, but vented again and drew a technical. Bickerstaff grabbed Brooks at his side to calm him down.
Memphis was leading 91-79 at the time with 8:39 left. Phoenix outscored Memphis 23-9 the remainder of the game.
Brooks took Memphis’ next three shots after the tech. He hit a jumper, but missed the next two shots. Phoenix followed those misfires with 3s from Canaan and Bridges to cut the lead to four.
Brooks may have tried to do too much in response to what happened earlier.
The Suns have been the team that’s allowed their emotions to get the best of them. This time, it was the other way around.
Rookie learned from veteran
Tyson Chandler had high expectations for Ayton going into the season.
“I want him to dominate on both ends,” said Chandler at the team’s media day in September. “Not just on one end. I want him to dominate on both ends because that’s when you take things to another level and I think he has the capability of doing so. It’s just about learning.”
With Phoenix buying out Chandler’s contract, Ayton only got a couple of months with the 17-year veteran, but he appreciates that time with him.
“He taught me a lot of things,” Ayton said. “This is the way of the business, life. Obviously, it’s tough losing a great vet like that. I was looking forward to learning a lot more during the season, but hey, we’ve got to move on now. He’s a great person, great vet, great player.”
Turnovers have doomed Phoenix this season – and they nearly did once again Sunday.
In the seven-game skid, Phoenix allowed 165 points off 132 turnovers. On Sunday, the Suns committed 25 that led to 33 points for Memphis, but they overcame that bugaboo to prevail this time.