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Devin Booker, Kevin Durant combine for 86 points, keep Suns afloat


PHOENIX — Suns superstar Devin Booker remembers dreaming as a kid about dealing with this kind of pressure.

His Suns trailed the top-seeded Denver Nuggets 0-2 in their Western Conference semifinal series. His future Hall of Fame backcourt mate, Chris Paul, was sidelined for Friday’s Game 3 and likely longer due to a strained left groin. Phoenix needed even more from Booker, who is leading the NBA in scoring and minutes during these playoffs.

“It’s not time to fold up now,” Booker said after matching his career playoff high with a 47-point performance to lead the Suns to a 121-114 win over the Nuggets at Footprint Center.

Booker also had nine assists in his most impressive performance of a spectacular playoff run that has included three 45-point outings. He has scored 295 points in these playoffs, the most by any player in the first eight games of the postseason since Michael Jordan in 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“He doesn’t run from the tough stuff,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of Booker. “I just think it’s his makeup. He understands not having Chris puts more on his plate, but I don’t think he forced it the way that you would think. I think he allowed the game to happen naturally and then when there were opportunities for him to push the issue. He was pretty efficient.”

Booker, often creating his own shot while handling much of the point guard responsibilities, was actually historically efficient, shooting 20-of-25 from the floor and 5-of-8 from 3-point range. He became only the second player in NBA history to shoot at least 80% from the floor while scoring 45 points or more in a playoff game, joining Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki, who did so in the 2011 West finals against Kevin Durant‘s Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just trying to be aggressive, being ultra-aggressive,” Booker said. “I understand that opens things up for my teammates when I play that way.”

Durant, who pushed for a midseason trade to Phoenix in large part due to his immense respect for Booker, added 39 points despite struggling with his jump shot. He was 12-of-31 from the floor — missing eight of his first nine attempts — but relentlessly attacked, going 14-of-16 from the free throw line.

“I missed so many good looks early,” said Durant, who also dished out eight assists and didn’t commit any turnovers. “Second quarter, I just tried to put my head down and get to the rim. They’re playing extra aggressive, so their hands are on me, their body’s there. They’re just sitting in the paint sometimes, so I just be aggressive to the rim. I try to get down there when I can’t make shots and tonight was one of those nights I couldn’t find one to fall. So just try to be effective in other ways.”

Only five duos in NBA history have combined for more points in a playoff game than the 86 by Booker and Durant in Game 3.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone called his team’s defensive effort against Booker, in particular, “unacceptable.” Malone complained about Booker easing into pull-up 3-pointers, but according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Booker was 11-of-16 on contested shots.

“We know who we need to stop, but they’re talented players,” said Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic, who recorded his ninth career playoff triple-double with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists. “They’re the problem. I will say they’re the two best scorers probably in the league right now, who can create a shot and who teams can send double-teams, send another body and they can still go and make tough shots.”

Durant, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, was adamant that he wasn’t surprised by his co-star’s dominance, saying that Booker possesses all the qualities you hope for in a superstar.

“He’s just a leader of this team, this organization,” Durant said. “He brings it every single day. We just follow his imprint, and we rally around him.”

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.



This story originally appeared on ESPN

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