PHOENIX — Suns coach Monty Williams said there was probably only one individual who could have stopped Devin Booker on Saturday night.
“The only person that could’ve stopped him tonight was me by taking him out of the game,” Williams said.
Thankfully for the Suns, Williams never took Booker out in the second half. He finished with 58 points to lead Phoenix to a 24-point comeback in a 118-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
With 7:14 to go in the third quarter, the Pelicans took an 83-59 lead and seemed well on their way to defeating Phoenix for the third time in nine days. But the Suns started chipping away and allowed Booker to get in position to take control.
Booker scored 25 consecutive points for the Suns starting from the 3:30 mark of the third quarter to the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter. After scoring the final 12 points of the third, Booker’s 13 to start the fourth brought the Suns within a point of the reeling Pelicans.
Once New Orleans started sending traps and double-teams Booker’s way, he dished it off to the open man and the Suns took advantage. They took the lead with 5:24 to go on a 3-pointer by Chris Paul and never trailed again.
“I was just making shots, man,” Booker said. “I’ve been in a bit of a slump and just gotta keep shooting. That’s what I live by. I was put in the right situations to make the right plays. I usually just want to make the right play every time, but once I get it going a little bit, you know shooting over a hand, it is the right play.”
Booker’s 58 points were the third-most in his career, and his most ever in a victory. It was the fifth 50-point game of Booker’s career, and at 26 years, 48 days old, he became the youngest player to record five 50-point games in his career since Kobe Bryant, who had his fifth at 24 years, 217 days .
Booker also became the 10th player in NBA history to have three games with 55 points or more, joining Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden, Michael Jordan, Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving.
“I think for me, I don’t take it for granted,” Paul said. “I know how hard it is, you know what I mean? Having games similar to that, not 58, but when you just got it going like that and you just want the ball and you know every time you’re gonna make it a play. So I appreciate it because I know how hard it is to consistently do that when everybody on the court knows you’re gonna get the ball.”
Booker had been struggling — by his lofty standards — heading into the game Saturday, averaging just 15.2 points on 32.9 percent shooting in his previous five games. After the fourth game, Booker rested for two because of a sore hamstring.
When he returned on Thursday against the Clippers, he had 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting. Earlier Saturday, Williams said he told the coaches he knew something big was coming out of Booker.
“I saw how frustrated he was in LA and I was like, ‘I gotta figure out a way to get him going,'” Williams said. “I wish it was something I did or schematically we tried to figure some things out. He just had one of those nights. … He just had one of those Book nights that none of us take for granted.”
The win tied the season series with the Pelicans at two games each, with both teams winning two games on their home floor. The Suns knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs in the first round last year, and with both teams so close in the standings — the Pelicans at 18-11 and second place and the Suns at 18-12 in fourth place — another series isn’t out of the question.
Booker finished two points shy of his second career 60-point game, and afterward he lamented his late-game free throw shooting. He was 5-of-8 from the line in the fourth quarter and said he was “going to have to hear about that for a long time” from his father.
But Booker did get one last attempt at 60 as time ticked down.
A week ago, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson threw down a 360 windmill dunk as time expired to punctuate an 11-point win for New Orleans at home. On Saturday, with the Suns up four as time was ticking down and the Pelicans not attempting to foul, Booker dribbled past halfcourt and let go a deep 3.
When asked if that was sending a message back for Williamson’s dunk, Booker stayed straight-faced.
“Just playing to the end,” he said.