PHOENIX — Just 77 minutes before the opening tip, Elfrid Payton rushed down the corridors of Talking Stick Resort Arena, making his way into the visitors’ locker room and into the starting lineup.
On Friday morning, when the Knicks prepared to face the Phoenix Suns later that night, Payton was not with the team. He was home for the birth of his first child, a daughter.
After flying in alone later in the day, he dressed quickly and got on the court to warm up as the Knicks tried to extend their three-game winning streak.
It took just minutes for Payton to hit his first three shots of the night. But after taking a 10-point halftime lead, the Knicks lost to the Suns, 120-112.
“It was very tough,” Payton said. “Didn’t really get in for shootaround, barely got to warm up today. So nothing was really routine about today. Appreciate my teammates sticking with me.
“I didn’t really get much sleep last night. Up basically all night for the most part, in and out sleep. It is what it is.”
Payton said the baby was born between 9 and 10 a.m. Friday. He was there for the birth, and shortly after being assured everything was OK, he made the cross-country trip.
Payton had 15 points and six assists but was no match for the Suns’ Devin Booker, who had 38 points — his fifth consecutive game with at least 30 — and seven assists.
“It’s tough,” Payton said. “He’s a great player, one of those guys that’s tough to guard. Thought we did a great job on him. He just made a lot of tough shots tonight with the exception of the ones in the first quarter. Everything else was pretty much contested . . . Credit to them. We’ve got to do better. We should have won this game. I felt for the most part we outplayed them. Just got to do a better job closing the second half.”
It was actually the start of the second half when the game turned. The Suns scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to tie it. With the Knicks unable to slow Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr. (29 points), the Suns scored 69 second-half points.
The Knicks were led by Marcus Morris with 25 points and Bobby Portis with 20 points in 20 minutes off the bench. Julius Randle’s run of hot shooting ended with a 5-for-17, 13-point, 13-rebound night. The Knicks fell to 6-7 under interim coach Mike Miller.
Minutes before Payton made it to the arena, Miller conducted his pregame media session. He had word that Payton had arrived in the city, but not the arena, and was confident that he would be able to perform.
“I have not put my eyes on him yet, but any minute he should be here,” Miller said. “He’ll have plenty of time to warm up. His shooting time is at the end, so he’ll get his full shooting time and full warm-up. He’ll get his normal pregame workout routine in.”
“Normal’’ is not the word to describe what Payton went through, and the Knicks noted that he showed the dedication to make it to Phoenix. “It was totally his decision,” Miller said. “He wanted to do it. We were excited to have him, appreciative that he thinks that much of this group to be here with them.”
“I’m surprised he did it,” Randle said. “He’s been playing great, especially for our team. It meant a lot, having your first child, for him to make this trip. Hopefully he can get back to his family and spend some time with his new baby girl.”
“Yeah, it was definitely talked about between me and the front office,” Payton said of possibly staying in New York. “We decided to get it done.
After being up all night, flying across the country and hustling onto the court without a normal warm-up, how did he get through the day (and the game)?
“I can’t really take credit for it,’’ he said. “Tried to stick to my basic principles, trust my work. I spent a lot of time in the gym this summer and tried not to think about it. I think a lot of that stuff is mental. I just tried to be mentally focused and like I said, my teammates were very patient with me, allowing me to do something like this. I’m thankful for them.”