Clutch Booker Secures Suns Victory in Defensive Battle vs Magic
Head Coach Monty Williams went with a new starting lineup on Friday night against the Orlando Magic as Dario Šarić stepped in as power forward and Deandre Ayton instead anchored the second unit. But with the game on the line deep into the fourth quarter, the Big Fella found himself right in the middle of the action.
Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr. led the way for the Suns in the first half as the duo combined for 29 points and took a double-digit lead into the break, 58-48. The Suns led for the entirety of the first half, but just as the Suns have seen in recent games, consistency and battling for the entire 48 minutes is key.
That consistency took a dip in the third quarter as the Magic came out of halftime hot, outscoring the Suns 27-19 in the third. After surrendering their lead against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night, the Suns looked to be in a similar predicament just a few days later.
The difference? They stayed together and kept fighting.
Although the Magic would eventually claim their first lead of the game, the Suns locked down defensively, turned up their tenacity and played with urgency on both ends of the floor. While the entire team did their part on defense, the Suns were in need of a last-minute offensive surge and turned to one of the hottest hands in the NBA, Devin Booker.
The team was down 94-90 with under a minute to play in a game where buckets seemed to be rare, but the NBA’s leading scorer since Christmas was ready for the challenge.
Booker launched a three from straight away to make it a one-point game and keep the Suns’ hope alive. He then forced a steal on defense, sprinted the court and drained another three-pointer in transition, going on a personal 6-0 run in 12 seconds to give the Suns a two-point lead.
“I was just in the moment,” Booker said. “I wanted to get a quick one. I got a steal, felt the open shot for the two-for-one, so I took it and it went in.”
But Booker’s biggest play of the night didn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Magic only needed a two to tie as they switched All-Star center Nikola Vucevic onto Booker in the paint. The big man tried backing Booker down, but Booker’s stingy defense allowed Ricky Rubio to swoop in for the steal and seal the game at home.
The Suns closed out the game on an 8-0 run to defeat the Magic 98-94. Defense was key as the Suns held the Magic to an opponent season-low 94 points and opponent season-low 37.1% from the field.
“Heart and determination,” Booker said. “We wanted to get a big win. We had two hard days of practice. We talked to each other about it, came out here and got a tough win against a really good team. I am proud of the way we played.”
Although Booker’s historic streak of 30-point games came to an end, the 23-year-old only furthered his case for his first All-Star selection. He scored 24 points to go along with 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in the victory.
“He just battles,” Coach Monty Williams said about Booker. “He's got toughness and the will to take that shot in transition says a lot about him. I just wish we can put some games together so that the nation can see how good he is. That's what it's going to take, winning games, so people can see how complete of a player he is.”
Oubre continued his dominant play as of late with 22 points, 9 rebounds and one of the most fierce rejections you’re ever going to see. This was Oubre’s fifth time scoring 20+ points in his last 7 games as he is averaging 22.9 points on 54.2 FG% over this stretch, plus 3.4 three-pointers on 50.0 3P% and 8.0 rebounds. He also has 3+ three-point makes in 5 of his last 6 games.
Rubio neared a triple-double scoring 11 points with 10 assists and 7 rebounds while adding 3 steals and 1 block. While Rubio’s defensive presence was critical for the Suns tonight, it was also historic as he surpassed 1,000 career steals.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rubio is the 7th-fastest player since steals began being recorded to reach 4,000 assists and 1,000 steals as he reached 1,000 steals in his 530th career game tonight. Only Chris Paul (420 games), John Stockton (426), Isiah Thomas (429), Magic Johnson (442), Jason Kidd (481) and Tim Hardaway (517) have done so in fewer games.
“We were more locked in,” Rubio said. “We weren’t taking rushed shots because the score, it was trusting what we were doing. Getting stops and then Book hitting two big shots and Deandre getting to the rim and finishing strong.”
Ayton was a force for the Suns in the paint all night scoring 13 points to go along with his 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. He is the first Suns player since Charles Barkley in 1993-94 to record 9+ boards in each of his first 8 games of a season. He also has 92 rebounds and 13 blocks this season, averaging 11.5 and 1.63 per game as he joins Shawn Marion (2004-05, 2005-06) as the only Suns in team history with this many rebounds and blocks through 8 games in a season.
The Suns will close-out their homestand as they host the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.