PHOENIX — — Devin Booker has carried a massive offensive load for the Phoenix Suns in these playoffs, averaging more than 35 points per game despite defenders draped over him in most games.
Facing an almost unmissable game on Friday night, he did even more.
Booker scored 47 points, Kevin Durant added 39, and the Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets 121-114 to cut Denver’s lead to 2-1 in their Western Conference Semifinals series.
“That’s all I know, that’s all I dreamed of when I was a kid,” Booker said. “I have dedicated a large part of my life, I distanced myself from my family when I was young, to continue to live these moments.”
Booker had another ultra-efficient scoring night, shooting 20 of 25 from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-pointers. Durant fired just 12 of 31 shots from the field, but made 14 of 16 free throws.
“They knew what we had to do to win this game,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
The Suns will attempt to tie the series in Game 4 on Sunday in Phoenix.
The Suns took a 90-88 lead in the fourth quarter, regaining the lead after the Nuggets erased a 15-point halftime deficit. Phoenix scored the first nine points of the fourth — including the final two on Durant’s quick dunk — to push their lead to 99-88.
They wouldn’t trail in the fourth quarter. Durant started 1 for 9 from the field but made 11 of his last 22.
“It’s frustrating not to shoot, because that’s what I get paid for,” Durant said. “But there also comes a time when you just have to figure it out and get over it.”
Denver’s Nikola Jokic — who finished second in Tuesday’s MVP voting to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid — finished with 30 points, 17 assists and 17 rebounds.
Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 32 points, while Michael Porter Jr. added 21 points and 12 rebounds. Murray said he was disappointed he didn’t contribute more down the stretch.
“I had some great looks at the end of the game and that would have kept us there,” Murray said. “I feel like they pulled out because of that. I need to be more locked in, more relaxed on the stretch.
Denver coach Michael Malone said his team played well at times, but the defense against Booker was “unacceptable”. Booker repeatedly approached the edge for short jumps or lay-ups, which contributed to the 20 of 25 shooting night.
“I wasn’t a math major, but that’s a really high percentage,” Malone said. “We have to be much better.”
The Suns placed Cameron Payne in the starting lineup to take the place of 12-time All-Star Chris Paul, who suffered a sprained left groin in the Game 2 loss and did not play Friday. Payne — a playoff hero for a few games two seasons ago when Paul was out — scored seven points, including a big 3-pointer early in the fourth.
Williams also upset the bench rotation, giving Terrence Ross, Jock Landale and TJ Warren more minutes. Landale finished with six points and nine rebounds, while Warren hit a few crucial buckets in the final minutes to help the Suns hold the lead.
Booker scored 27 points in the first half on 12-of-15 shooting to push the Suns ahead 67-52 at halftime. Durant added 21, including 11 free throw points.
It was a tough night for Suns starting center Deandre Ayton, who finished with just four points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
Ayton was so ineffective that Williams benched the former No. 1 overall pick in favor of Landale, who provided far more energy and rebound. Booker said it was his job to help Ayton through the tough times.
“That’s life,” Booker said. “We’ve been here long enough to understand that not every night will be your night. He does other things to make up for it. … Energy and effort must always be high, especially at this time. You can’t get upset, you can’t get in your head. I got to see it a bit with him today, so it’s my job to pump him up.
Nuggets: Jokic had 10 assists in the first half. …had a 51-41 rebounding advantage.
Suns: Durant fired 16 of the team’s 18 free throws. He had them all until Booker fired two free throws in the final seconds.
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