LOS ANGELES: The Phoenix Suns shrugged off an early injury to Devin Booker to extend their winning streak to 17 games with a 104-96 victory over the pace-setting Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. The much-anticipated showdown between the NBA’s two best teams did not disappoint as Phoenix shut down Stephen Curry with a superb defensive effort.
The victory vaulted Phoenix to the top of the Western Conference alongside Golden State, who entered Tuesday’s contest in Phoenix on the back of a seven-game winning run. Phoenix and Golden State now lead the Western Conference with 18 wins and three defeats each. The Suns’ victory was all the more impressive given that star shooting guard Booker departed with a hamstring injury in the second quarter.
With Booker absent, it was left to veteran Chris Paul to shepherd the Suns over the line in the second half. Paul finished with 15 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. DeAndre Ayton led the Suns scorers with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but it was Phoenix’s defense which proved the difference, restricting the Warriors scorers to just 18 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re an improving defensive team for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “To me this was just will and toughness… our guys just willed themselves to victory.”
Williams had special praise for Paul, the 36-year-old point guard who contributed 39 minutes on court after the injury to Booker. “Chris playing 39 minutes speaks to his will and his dedication to the game,” Williams said. “We just had a number of guys step up.” Jordan Poole led the scoring for the Warriors with 28 points but Curry was restricted to just 12 points on a night when his usual accuracy from beyond the arc deserted him. The Warriors star made only three of 14 attempts from three-point distance.
Harden cuts loose
In New York, James Harden produced a gem to finish with 34 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as the Brooklyn Nets held off a fierce challenge from the New York Knicks to secure a 112-110 victory. Harden gave Brooklyn the early initiative with 15 points in the first quarter while Kevin Durant showed his class with 27 points overall. Durant missed all of his five three-point attempts but was crucial in engineering looks for the red-hot Harden.
Cam Thomas added 12 points and Patty Mills 10 for Brooklyn. The Knicks stayed in touch with five payers in double figurers led by Alec Burks with 25 points and Julius Randle with 24 points. Evan Fournier set up a thrilling finale with a three-pointer to tie the game for the Knicks at 110-110 with 17.7 seconds remaining.
But Durant cleverly created space on the game’s final possession to set up James Johnson, who was fouled and then nailed two free-throws to clinch victory. Johnson’s winning points came from a Nets free-throw tally of 25, compared to the Knicks’ total of 12. That gulf in free-throw numbers irked Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who felt his team were not treated evenly throughout the game. “There’s a big discrepancy in free throws, I can tell you that,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t really care how the game’s called, I really don’t. You can call it tight, you can call it loose – but it’s got to be the same.”
In Sacramento, the Los Angeles Lakers overcame the absence of LeBron James to rout the Kings 117-92. James was ruled out of the game early Tuesday after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. The Kings appeared to be poised to exploit the reorganized Lakers line-up after leading by nine points at half-time. But a Lakers scoring blitz after the interval – overwhelming the Kings 67-33 in the second half – completed an impressive turnaround by the 2020 NBA champions. Anthony Davis led the Lakers scorers with 25 points while Russell Westbrook added 23. Malik Monk had 22 off the bench. – AFP