No Devin Booker? The Suns show they will be fine without him in the short term

Kent Somers
Arizona Republic
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 27:  Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates after he drew the foul against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on November 27, 2021 in New York City.

No Devin Booker, no problem?

As intoxicating as the Suns victory over the Warriors Tuesday night was, no one’s delirious enough to think, or say, that. “We don’t have anybody else that plays like Book,” coach Monty Williams said.

Not many teams do. But the Suns will be fine without Booker, who left Tuesday’s game in the second quarter after suffering a hamstring injury. It’s just that the rest of us will need to adjust our definition of what “fine” is.

If Booker misses significant time, it might mean a little slippage from the way the Suns have played since Halloween Eve when they won the first game of a winning streak that now stands at 17, tying a franchise record.

It might mean the time spent with the best record in the NBA, 18-3, will be short.

But if the Suns are going to fall, it won’t be a long drop. That 17-game winning streak gives them a cushion and allows them to be conservative with Booker’s injury.

There’s no need to rush him back, not with 51 games and five or so months left in the regular season, not with the depth the Suns have, not with the way they played defense against the Warriors in a 104-96 victory Tuesday night.

“They took a lot of stuff away and didn’t make many mistakes,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “They were very good defensively.”

Nov 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) is pressured by Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II (0) at Footprint Center.

After scoring 35 points in the first quarter, the Warriors made 22 of 63 shots. Guard Steph Curry, who was averaging 28.6 points, made just 4 of 21 shots and scored 12 points. The Warriors committed 22 turnovers. Their 96 points was their fewest in a game this season.

Williams didn’t want to brag on his defense too much. The Suns play Golden State again Friday and he didn't want to give Curry “any fuel." Williams went out of his way to mention a few times post game that Curry missed shots he normally makes.

That’s true but it was also obvious that the Suns defense, spearheaded by Mikal Bridges as the primary defender on Curry, harassed the Warriors over the final three quarters.

 “What I really did was just be aggressive and be attached,” Bridges said.

“But it’s a whole team thing, because if one guy messes up on a switch, there’s a slip (and) there’s a three for him.”

The Suns aren’t sure how long Booker will be out. Maybe it’s a good sign he returned to the bench in the second half and did a little bit of coaching.

The Suns can’t replace Booker, but they can compensate for him, Williams said, with a “holistic effort.”

In other words, everyone tries to do just a bit more while also realizing they are not Devin Booker.

That’s what the Suns did Tuesday night. Guard Chris Paul played 39 minutes, a season-high, and made play after play down the stretch. Center Deandre Ayton scored a team-high 24 points and had 11 rebounds. Jae Crowder made important three-point shots. Landry Shamet, who couldn’t make a shot most of the night, hit a big three-pointer down the stretch.

Asked how the Suns compensate for Booker’s absence, Paul made it sound simple. “Just keep playing,” he said. “It’s not one guy that is going to feel that void. We have so many guys like Elfrid Payton, EP, hadn’t played the last few games, he came right into the game ready. Cam Johnson started the second half. We have so much depth on this team that if somebody does go down, somebody will step up.”

Taking a broader view, the Suns showed again Tuesday just how far they have come from a team that won only 19 games in 2018-19. That team, which included Booker, Ayton and Bridges, lost 17 consecutive games at one point.

General Manager James Jones built a better roster. Williams improved the culture. The first signs that change was coming appeared when the Suns went 8-0 in the bubble during the summer of 2020.

Williams held some optional practices during those three weeks in Orlando. Routinely, the Suns had nine to 12 players show up. They shared gyms with other teams during those practices. The Suns would look over to see only two or three players from the other team there.

Williams shared that anecdote before the Warriors game on Tuesday. Over the next 2 ½ hours or so, his team showed how that work manifests itself in a game.

Yes, it was a November game. Yes, Curry will have better nights, probably Friday against the Suns in San Francisco. Yes, the Warriors will be even better when guard Klay Thompson and center James Wiseman are healthy. And yes, the Suns might slide back a bit without Booker.

But while the Suns may not thrive while Booker is out, they will do more than survive. They proved that Tuesday night.

Reach Kent Somers at Kent.Somers@gannett.com. Follow him on twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Monday and Friday at 7:30 a.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.

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