PHOENIX – Devin Booker scored 27 points and the Phoenix Suns never trailed, beating the depleted San Antonio Spurs 115-94 on Tuesday night to clinch a playoff spot.
The Suns (44-35) won their sixth in a row, the longest current winning streak in the NBA. With one more victory in the final three games, Phoenix would assure itself of the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round.
Chris Paul scored 22 points, while Deandre Ayton had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Kevin Durant scored 18 points and reserve Torrey Craig added 15 points and 10 rebounds, playing particularly well in the second half when the Spurs got as close as nine points after trailing by 31 in the second quarter.
“I just wanted to come in and bring a spark," Craig said. "We get a big lead and think that sometimes teams might lay down because of the guys we have. But it is the NBA and teams make runs.”
The Suns are 7-0 when Durant has been in their lineup, including the last four games after he returned from an injured ankle. His presence has opened up more scoring opportunities for Paul, who was 9 of 14 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
“I never thought I'd have to tell a Hall of Fame player to shoot the ball,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Kevin and Book are going nuts because they all want him to shoot.”
Malaki Branham led the Spurs with 21 points. Tre Jones scored 20, while Keita Bates-Diop and Sandro Mamukelashvili each had 13.
The Spurs (20-59) only dressed 10 players. They were without their top two scorers, Keldon Johnson (right foot sprain) and Devin Vassell (left knee). Also out for San Antonio were Zach Collins (finger), Jeremy Sochan (right knee soreness) and Romeo Langford (left adductor).
And during Tuesday’s game, Doug McDermott played six minutes and limped off with an apparent ankle injury. Dominick Barlow was hurt in a fourth-quarter collision, and starter Devonte’ Graham was helped to the locker room late in the game after hurting his leg.
“Obviously it was going to be a tough, tough night for them, but their competitiveness was great,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think we were intimidated (in the first quarter). After that we played very competitively and we executed pretty well against a very good basketball team.”
San Antonio entered the night ranked last in scoring defense, having allowed 122.8 points per game. Phoenix came out roaring, shooting 63% in the first quarter in building a 42-25 lead. That’s the most the Suns have scored in the first quarter this season, passing the 40 points against Chicago on March 3.
Phoenix led 69-51 at the half. Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the half to lead the Suns with 18 points while Booker scored 14, all in the first quarter. The Spurs got within nine in the third quarter, but by the end of the period Phoenix was back ahead 97-76.
Williams played for Popovich with the Spurs and coached under him as well.
“I just enjoy seeing him and I’m grateful for the history I have with him,” the Suns coach said before the game. “I’m grateful that I get to tell people outside of basketball that I know Gregg Popovich as a man, as a mentor, as a friend.”
Popovich may not have enjoyed Tuesday’s result, but he too admires what Williams and the Suns have done.
No matter who’s playing, Popovich said of Williams, “He’s gonna coach. He’s going to do the same things, have the same standards, the same accountability. Kick ‘em in the butt when necessary, put an arm around them and love ’em when necessary. He’s a good man.”
Popovich coached the Olympic gold-medal team in 2021 and saw Durant from the same bench.
“He was great. I love him,” Popovich said. “How do you stop him? You can’t. There’s no way you can stop him. Now you can double-team him, and he’s smart enough to give it up. No matter what happens, they’ll figure out what they need to do.”
Spurs: Play Portland on Thursday in Austin, Texas.
Suns: Host Denver Thursday. ___
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