PHOENIX – We should try handing Devin Booker various problems and see how he solves them. I don’t even wonder if he can or not. My car now makes a weird noise when I start it. The bedroom door keeps jamming. Our air conditioning unit is wilting.
He will discover that he will fix everything. This guy might as well have had a toolbox with him on the court on Wednesday as he returned from a five-game absence to treat the Phoenix Suns on the court and upset emotions in a 133-115 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Booker finished by limiting the minutes with 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, four rebounds, five assists and two turnovers in 26 minutes.
With Minnesota (8-3) playing better basketball than anyone, Booker was in complete control against the best defense in the NBA.
“The pop music was there, and it was playing fast,” Kevin Durant said. “This is what we need. It’s good to be back at our point guard again.”
Those who haven’t been lucky enough to witness his development over the years will spend nights like Wednesday watching Booker coordinate and think this is a huge leap from the ninth-year guard, but he’s been carrying this within him for a while now.
However, he is expected to improve again and the stars have aligned for him to feature this year in a role running the show.
His speed in dissecting the defense was masterful, switching speeds to create the gaps he wanted before exploiting them. Rudy Gobert, one of the greatest rim protectors of all time, is back to Defensive Player of the Year form and you wouldn’t have guessed it the way Booker broke the anchor.
After Booker missed five games with a right calf strain, he was +17 when he shared the floor with Gobert during 17:40 of playing time. Gobert was -25 in the game overall and Booker equalized at the net.
Best of all, in what we call the Steve Nash Effect around these parts, Booker made everything much easier on his teammates. Durant was able to score in the pocket of the game, which he preferred rather than controlling the ball as he has been forced to do at times this season. Gone are Phoenix’s glaring turnover woes, as just three of their nine came in the first half, all of which came either at the start or at the end.
“Adding a book in there makes everything easier for everyone,” Durant said.
Those factors combined put Phoenix (5-6) ahead by 14 points midway through the first quarter, a lead that grew to 20 points in the second quarter after Minnesota initially cut the deficit to six by the end of the opening period. The Suns quickly led by as many as 28 points in the third quarter and reached 110 at the end.
Minnesota had just come off a tough win the night before in the Bay against a severely shorthanded Golden State Warriors team, which it snatched away in crunch time, putting itself in another situation where it had to claw and claw to win.
That kind of fight didn’t materialize on Wednesday, even with the Suns’ tremendous fourth-quarter struggles of late.
Durant added 31 points (11 for 15) with six rebounds, six assists and two turnovers.
On a night when Suns Big 3 Bradley Beal, Booker and Durant were expected to play together for the first time this regular season, Beal (lower back spasms) was a late scratch, putting a dampener on the excitement in Booker’s building that helped him return to right.
Bell was initially listed as a prospect, and he reportedly went on to give the Big 3 his debut. He made his first appearance of the season in three games after a back injury sidelined him for the first seven games of the season and he has yet to look like himself. Bell suffered a back injury in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which Bell continued to play, head coach Frank Vogel said. Vogel said Bell woke up with some “residual tightness” on Wednesday that had not been relieved an hour before kickoff.
This is the second time Bale’s participation plans have changed due to his injury, as he returns to pre-season. Given that, the injury appears to be quite impactful at the moment and Bale cannot play without some level of discomfort. Phoenix certainly got Bell to the point where the risk of re-injury was as low as possible, and he was only able to pitch in three games. Until we see Bale playing without a grimace and avoiding any escalation during a good period of matches, this is worrying.
Even with Beal and Booker limited to minutes, it was going to be a great game to begin with, forcing the Timberwolves’ huge front court of Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns to defend more on the perimeter and challenge someone like the 36-year-old. Mike Conley, who stands six feet tall, will take on an elite role as Bell.
The opposite was how Phoenix handled that volume, a dynamic that remains to be seen more prominently after the Suns elected to start Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon. The Suns didn’t have many issues even through their 16-5 offensive rebounding disadvantage, and more importantly, they had plenty of floor space thanks to their extra shooting.
Phoenix’s supporting cast had some great games, including the rebounding variety from Josh Okogie with his 12 points (3-for-3 on 3s) after missing 12 straight threes in the last six games. Gordon (15 points) and Allen (14) also knocked down a trio of 3s and Drew Eubanks provided 13 points off the bench and the poster for the season so far.
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The Suns did a great job of executing their game plan to limit Anthony Edwards’ dynamism, cutting off his space with bigs who play high on checking drives and completing needed turnovers on the back end. He wasn’t able to find room to maneuver all night, a nod to Vogel’s defensive efficiency and postseason concerns about how Gobert-Towns operates in the best environments. Okogie and Jordan Goodwin played big roles in holding Edwards down to a season-low 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field, and Vogel specifically shouted out the bigs as part of that effort as well.
“Beer enthusiast. Subtly charming alcohol junkie. Wannabe internet buff. Typical pop culture lover.”