Booker feels ‘part of history’ with winner 3 at MSG

Sports

NEW YORK — Devin Booker knew the New York Knicks would make him give the ball up on the possession with the game on the line. He was also certain he’d get it back to take the kind of shot he’d dreamed about his whole life.

And as soon as the ball left his right hand, Booker had no doubt it was going in, providing the deciding points in a 116-113 victory at Madison Square Garden on Sunday that extended the Phoenix Suns‘ winning streak to seven games. The last two of those wins came without co-superstar Kevin Durant, who was held out Sunday after a vigorous pregame workout to test his right foot soreness.

The Knicks, as anticipated, sent a second defender toward Booker to temporarily force the ball out of his hands. Guard Jordan Goodwin received the pass on the right wing, glanced to the corner to freeze the defense and quickly delivered a dribble handoff to Booker, who took a couple of dribbles before launching a 3-pointer inches away from the New York bench with Knicks forwards Julius Randle and RJ Barrett contesting.

“For a game winner, I’m feeling I’m taking that shot unless they super blitz me to where I can’t even see the hoop,” Booker told ESPN after his 28-point, 11-assist performance. “But any soft pressure like that, I feel like if I raise up and I have it on my right side that nobody can really get to it. I know it sounds crazy, but it feels like an open shot and when you let it go, it’s good.”

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, who scored a game-high 35 points, hit a midrange jumper to tie the score with 21.2 seconds remaining. During the ensuing timeout, the Suns discussed ways to put Booker in position to attempt the game winner despite the Knicks double-teaming him, and then executed flawlessly.

“He made a great shot,” Randle said. “Fading out bounds, 3-pointer over two people. You got to tap him on the butt and say, ‘Good job.’ He made a great shot. Not really much you can do about it.”

Booker didn’t have a great shooting night, going 10-of-25 from the floor and 1-of-4 from 3-point range, as guard Eric Gordon (25 points) picked up the scoring slack for much of the night. The Suns still had supreme confidence in him making the biggest shot of the night — and one that Booker said “ranks right up there” with the most memorable of his career, especially given his reverence for Madison Square Garden.

“I’m a part of history now, it feels like,” said Booker, who scored seven of the Suns’ nine points in the final five minutes. “It means a lot. If you’re a fan of the game and you’re a fan of history, you should feel that upon arrival, right? When we touch down in New York City, even when I’m here in the summer and I get the chance to drive by MSG, it just gives you a certain feeling.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was Booker’s seventh go-ahead field goal in the final five seconds of regulation or overtime since entering the NBA in 2015-16. He ranks behind only Chicago‘s DeMar DeRozan (nine) for the most in the league during that span.

“It’s Devin Booker, man,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “The guy hit a cold-blooded, big-time shot.”

The Suns’ seven-game run — which matches the Orlando Magic for the longest active winning streak in the NBA — began when Booker returned from a calf strain. He has been spectacular, averaging 28.4 points and 8.4 assists in those seven games, during which Phoenix has outscored opponents by 95 points with Booker on the floor.

“He’s our leader,” Vogel said. “There was a lot of talk when Chris [Paul] left about what the leadership structure was going to look like, and he’s really taken that thing and run. It’s been really natural to him. Hasn’t been forced, hasn’t been anything other than, ‘It’s my time.'”

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