Durant scores 38 and Booker has a career-best 15 assists to boost the Suns past the Jazz
By MATTHEW COLES – Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The Phoenix Suns have opted to go without a traditional point guard.
Kevin Durant believes they don’t need one, not when he and Devin Booker are scoring and dealing like they did Friday in Utah.
Durant scored 38 points and Booker had 24 points and a career-high 15 assists to power the Suns to a 131-128 victory over the Jazz in an In-Season Tournament game.
“We’re also natural point guards. We are natural basketball players. We can play every position. … We’ve just set people up and been settled, too,” Durant said.
Durant’s 3-pointer put the Suns ahead 124-115 before the Jazz rallied to get within one point in the final minute. Durant hit his sixth 3 with 18 seconds left.
“My three felt good all night,” Durant said. “I had a miss to start the fourth quarter that looked good coming off my hand. So I kept it in the back of my mind: I wanted to get that shot again.”
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Durant also collected nine rebounds and nine assists. He has scored at least 25 points in 11 straight games for the longest active streak in the NBA.
“He hit a bomb and won the game. It was a big shot by a big player but he was really great all night,” Phoenix coach Frank Vogel said.
Booker “is one of the best shooting guards in the league and now he’s a point guard — he’s playing like one — while also scoring the ball and giving us 15 assists and one turnover,” Vogel said.
Although the game was tight down the stretch, Durant sidled up to Booker and asked him if he hit his career high in assists. Booker smiled and nodded.
“It was so effortless. He was not hunting for help. He was just playing in the flow of the game. He played like a perfect guard tonight,” Durant said.
Jordan Clarkson scored a season-high 37 points for Utah. He has four straight games with 26 or more points, the longest streak of his career.
Lauri Markkanen scored 21 points for the Jazz, while John Collins had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
“It hurt to lose the game especially when you give yourself a chance to win,” Markkanen said.
The Suns (6-6) improved to 1-1 in Group A West while the Jazz (4-8) fell to 2-1.
Jusuf Nurkic scored 15 points and Eric Gordon had 14 points for the Suns, who have won back-to-back games for the second time this season.
Booker went on a 16-4 run that led to the third and fourth quarters that gave the Suns a 107-99 lead with 10:15 to play, an advantage they eventually held.
“Just punishing defenses and making them pay for over-helping or just any type of defense that they throw at us, I think we have an answer,” Booker said.
After a 2-7 start and the loss of defensive anchor Walker Kessler to an elbow injury, the Jazz changed their defensive strategy to a transition scheme, sometimes a trap.
The problem was that they often left Durant open for 3-pointers. He went 6 for 8 from the world.
“Kevin is very good against all coverages,” Utah coach Will Hardy said. “The last play of the game, obviously we’re not trying to play one-on-one defense against Kevin. The plan was to try to crowd him, climb under him, trouble the ball.”
But Durant got a switch, crossed over with a dribble and hit the 3 for the dagger.
Booker, who missed eight games with ankle and calf injuries, and Durant scored or assisted on every Suns basket in the first quarter of 41 points, the fourth-best scoring quarter of their season. They combined for 19 points and 11 assists.
Utah rookie Keyonte George, who had 15 points, scored eight in a 12-2 run that gave the Jazz their first lead of the game late in the second quarter.
The Suns and Jazz play each other again on Sunday.
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