Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams has tagged his group as resilient all year, and there may not have been a more resilient win for them this season than Monday’s 118-110 victory over the New York Knicks.
At the end of a five-game road trip without two key players for the second night in a row on the second back-to-back of the time away from home, the Suns would take on a Knicks team that had won their last nine straight.
The Knicks looked the part early on, coming out laser-focused in the first quarter to jump on the Suns. But a 30-15 deficit for Phoenix was cut down to seven at the end of the opening period, with Devin Booker doing most of the heavy lifting, a performance he kept consistent with throughout the game to let the Knicks lead by only seven for the half.
While experiencing winning basketball in the NBA for the first time, Booker in the last two years has shown an understanding for when his team doesn’t quite have the juice that night, and how he as a star can carry his team through it.
“That young man was unreal tonight,” Williams said.
“I think Book understands the moment,” Williams added. “I also feel like there’s certain players that have a will about them.”
Booker did that with 20 points in the first half, facing double teams often and setting up his teammates for open 3s they weren’t hitting. At a certain point, he was going to need someone else to step up, an eerie narrative for a game to have considering how common it was through the worst of stretches for the Suns the past few years.
Some of the misses were from Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who have both struggled shooting the ball during the road trip. Johnson missed all seven 3s he took in the first three quarters, while Bridges broke his cold streak a little earlier, scoring 11 points in the third quarter (all in the last 5:37) with a pair of 3s involved.
The surge of momentum from Bridges had the game tied heading into the fourth quarter, where Johnson took his turn to step up. The second-year wing hit three deep balls in the first seven minutes of the fourth, and suddenly the Suns were up eight.
Williams said after the team’s loss on Sunday to the Brooklyn Nets that the most he could take away from his shooter’s poor run of form is that they were due, and he sure was right.
“The shots going down obviously make you feel good but what makes you feel better is watching Mikal and Cam in those moments believe in themselves and believe in the work that they’ve put in,” Williams said. “And watching Book and Chris continue to encourage them and throw them the ball and trust their teammates.”
The Knicks hung around before another Bridges 3 was followed by a dunk to make it 111-102 Phoenix with 2:53 to go.
New York got within four at the 1:57 mark, triggering clutch time to summon the Point God.
Chris Paul emerged, hitting three straight absolutely ridiculous shots to ice the Knicks.
“I think he was guarded well on most of those possessions and it’s just one of those things you can’t do anything about it,” Booker said. “That’s Chris Paul. He makes those plays and you just have to bow your head to him because it’s that level of focus, that level of intensity, that will to win. You can’t teach that.”
Booker finished with 33 points, Bridges added 21 and Paul had 20.
The Suns held the Knicks to 47 points in the second half and turned the ball over only eight times.
Torrey Craig got the start over Johnson to defend Knicks All-Star Julius Randle, and the Suns executed the gameplan well there, holding Randle to 6-of-17 shooting.
The win for the Suns makes it a 3-2 record overall on the warpath of a road trip, and in the standings, they’re 1 game back of the Utah Jazz and a game up on the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s about where they were at as they left the Valley, which speaks to the toughness the team has shown all year to rarely falter.
As Booker will explain next to take us home, ending it that way was big before hosting the Clippers on Wednesday and Jazz two days later. Even with that two-game stretch looming off this brutal East Coast swing, Booker told Williams after playing the entire third quarter he was ready to play the whole fourth too.
“We wanted this one. We wanted this one bad,” Booker said. “Just for ourselves. Obviously knew about the streak they had going on and we knew this was going to be a dogfight, so I’m willing to take it to that level for that. This an important win for us moving into our next few games at home and I think this win helps the energy. Helps the energy on the plane ride back, helps our energy moving forward throughout the season.”