UPDATE: MAY 6, 2023 AT 12:40 AM
Desperation was on their side. Just like Devin Booker.
There was no substitute for either Friday night at the Footprint Center.
The Suns restored confidence with a solid 121-114 victory over the Nuggets in a decisive Game 3, soothing the nerves of a jittery fanbase. They will restore order with another victory on Sunday.
“We’re just grateful for the win, grateful for all the contributions,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “And we will need it again on Sunday.”
The heavy lifting was done by the two Phoenix superstars. Booker and Kevin Durant scored 86 points in 85 minutes combined. No one else on the team has approached double the numbers.
Booker and Durant took very different paths for their productivity. Booker was hot, exerting his will immediately after the first warning. Durant continued to struggle with his shooting but punished Denver with 16 of his team’s 18 free throw attempts.
It’s not the easiest way to navigate a playoff. There’s the fear of attrition, and after the game Durant admitted he was lost in his head and thinking too much on the floor. But neither seems to mind the heavy minutes. And there’s no other way to a championship for a team with a thin bench and no depth at point guard.
“I feel so good,” Booker said. “Happy to be here.”
Durant was certainly impressed.
“I can’t say enough about Book,” Durant said. “Just out of words.”
During his tenure in the Valley, Williams was also outplayed far too often in the playoffs. He was reactionary and slow to adapt. But that was no problem on Friday.
Without point guard Chris Paul, the Suns rolled out a very different look in Game 3. A pair of defensive stalwarts – Josh Okogie and Torrey Craig – were almost afterthoughts in the revamped lineup while Terrence Ross and TJ Warren left the end of the bench. to play nearly 39 minutes combined. Warren responded with a few big buckets in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Jock Landale gave the team excitement and energy and largely outplayed starting center Deandre Ayton.
“He just scrapped,” Williams said. “You couldn’t emphasize what he did from a high-level skill standpoint. But he just gave up.
Ayton scored four points in just under 26 minutes. His infuriating engine and approach to finesse enticed the fan base, and many booed Ayton after he missed a rim finger roll attempt that should have been a ferocious dunk. Ayton is clearly struggling with his spot on the Booker-Durant Suns, and it’s a situation worth watching.
“That’s life,” Booker said. “We’ve been here long enough to understand that every night isn’t going to be your night…. (but) energy and effort must always be high, especially at this time.
So far, the contributions from the bench have been a pleasant surprise and proof that role players always perform best from the comfort of their own homes. Without Paul on the floor, the Suns played with more pace and the results were encouraging.
Will Williams stick to his new rotation? Can they hold out defensively in Game 4?
Here’s the good news: The Suns are still waiting for that breakthrough performance from Durant, one of the greatest players in NBA history. When it does, it will be a welcome addition to the series.
Contact Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Arizona’s sports station 98.7 FM.