Devin Booker wasn’t at his best Thursday night. Regardless, there was no question he had been getting the ball with the game on the line.
Booker received the inbounds pass, was fouled and made two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to provide the Phoenix Suns a 118-117 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Booker scored 18 points on just 5-of-17 shooting, but coach Monty Williams put the game in his hands following Portland’s Robert Covington missed two free throws with 4.4 seconds left and the Trail Blazers up by one.
Booker got the ball off a display and was fouled by Norman Powell. Two free throws later, the Suns had secured the win, which moved them in a single game of the Utah Jazz for the No. 1 seed at the NBA and also the Western Conference with 2 games remaining.
“It requires mental toughness, endurance, all the things we talk about to make a play in these minutes after you haven’t taken it well,” Williams said. “It happens, but the fantastic ones have a short memory. I believe he knew I was planning to return to him in that instant he or Chris Paul) and that he produced.”
C.J. McCollum missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer to get Portland.
Paul led Phoenix with 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting and Mikal Bridges needed a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Damian Lillard scored a game-high 41 points on 16-of-23 shooting for Portland, which had its own five-game winning streak stopped. However, Portland’s bench scored just 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Carmelo Anthony scored five points while shooting 1 .
The Trail Blazers, who had been enjoying the second of a back-to-back after beating Utah on Wednesday night, dropped to the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, a half-game back of Dallas with two matches to play.
The Suns, who had lost three of four coming in, avoided their initial three-game skid of the season.
Phoenix played without center Deandre Ayton, who missed his first match of this year with a sore knee. Williams failed to supply any information about Ayton’s injury prior to the game, saying only that he”came in sore now.” The Suns began Dario Saric in Ayton’s location, yet Phoenix outrebounded Portland 42-33 and allowed that the Trail Blazers to grab just one offensive rebound.
“It speaks to the toughness of our men and ability to lock into a game plan,” Williams said. “It also speaks to how rebounding translates into winning once you don’t offer a team extra possessions, particularly how lethal this team is.”
The Suns turned what had been a tight game into an 85-77 lead going to the fourth quarter, thanks to reserve ahead Torrey Craig, who scored 10 points in the final 2:07 of the next quarter. Craig hit back-to-back 3-pointers to spark the run.
11 in the third quarter, and collected six rebounds and five assists.
“I was not being aggressive,” Payne said. “I knocked down several big-time shots. That just comes from being aggressive and having assurance each night.”
Blazers: Forward Nassir Little was out with back spasms.
Suns: Along with Ayton not available, Phoenix was without forwards Cam Johnson (wrist) and Abdel Nader (knee). … The Suns need one win to get to the 50-win mark for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.
Blazers: Return home to host the Nuggets on Sunday.
Suns: Travel to face the Spurs on Saturday and Sunday to close the regular season.