PHOENIX — The NBA’s top two teams in pace met Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena in a game that was played at an absolute breakneck pace. It wasn’t always artful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
After the Suns closed to within two points with 4:15 left on three straight baskets by Devin Booker, the Nets put together a remarkable 17-0 run on their way to securing their first road win by a 122-104 margin. It gave them a handsome and surprising early-season record of 4-5.
The game marked a homecoming of sorts for Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who played down the road for two seasons at the University of Arizona in Tucson before leaving as a first-round draft pick in 2015. He scored 20 points, and added 13 rebounds, both career-highs. He also was a defensive thorn in the side for Suns star Booker, who was held to 11 points and shot 5-for-18.
Hollis-Jefferson spent much of his night tumbling after hellbent drives to the basket, as he did on a falling-down jump shot in the paint after the Suns had cut the Nets’ lead to three at 97-94. After Booker’s surge of six unanswered points trimmed the Nets’ lead to 102-100 at the 4:15 mark, Trevor Booker took over, scoring eight of his 19 points in the 17-0 run.
Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Hamilton each added 19 points for the Nets, who made 16 of 37 three-pointers (43.2). The Suns were led by 18 points from TJ Warren and got 17 from Jared Dudley, but they shot only 37.4 percent from the field.
Jefferson was greeted by a contingent of at least 20 friends from his college days. But there was someone else waiting for Hollis-Jefferson as well — second-year Suns shooting guard Devin Booker, who is emerging as one of the NBA’s brightest young lights. Booker came into the game averaging 21.5 points and earlier this season became the youngest player in NBA history to have back-to-back games of at least 38 points against New Orleans (38) and the Lakers (39) just a week past his 20th birthday.
Covering Booker was the primary assignment for Hollis-Jefferson, who has become a versatile part of the Nets’ starting five with his ability to cover both guard positions and both forwards. “Just in terms of him feeling super-confident and fearless, it’s going to take the effort I give every night as a defender to limit his uncontested shots and limit the easy looks he gets sometimes,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “He’s a phenomenal player, so, he’ll make some tough shots. But it’s about making those shots tough for him every time.”
Hollis-Jefferson played an inspired first half, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds, both team-highs, as the Nets led by as much as 16 points before going to the break with a 58-45 lead. Although he wasn’t on the Suns’ Booker for every second he was on the court, Hollis-Jefferson had the most to do with the 2-for-11 first-half shooting performance and limiting him to five points.
Overall, the Suns shot only 30.4 percent from the field in the first half. They clearly missed the defensive presence of center Tyson Chandler, who missed his third straight game following the death of his mother.
The third quarter was a different story for the Suns, who closed to within 90-83 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Dudley. He had 12 of the Suns’ points in the period, including all three three-pointers he put up. When the Suns scored the first five points of the final period, the Nets’ lead was down to two, and it was clear they were in for a battle if they wanted their first road win.