SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have opted to go without a traditional point guard.
Kevin Durant believes they don’t need one, not when he and Devin Booker are scoring and dealing like they did Friday in Utah.
Durant scored 38 points and Booker had 24 points and a career-high 15 assists to boost the Suns to a 131-128 win over the Jazz in an In-Season Tournament game.
“We’re natural point guards too. We’re natural basketball players. We can play every position. … We just set people up and be set up as well,” Durant said.
Durant’s 3-pointer lifted the Suns to a 124-115 lead before the Jazz rallied to get within one point in the final minute. Durant struck again with his sixth 3 with 18 seconds left.
“My 3 was feeling good all night,” Durant said. “I had missed one to start the fourth quarter that looked good coming off my hand. So I just kept it in the back of my mind: I wanted to get to that shot again.”
Durant also collected nine rebounds and nine assists. He has scored at least 25 points in 11 straight games for the longest active streak in the NBA.
“He hit a bomb and won the game. It was a big-time shot by a big-time player but he was really terrific the whole night,” Phoenix coach Frank Vogel said.
Booker is “one of the best shooting guards in the league and now he’s a point guard — he’s playing like it — while also scoring the ball as well and leading us with 15 assists and one turnover,” Vogel said.
Even though the game was tight down the stretch, Durant sidled up to Booker and asked him if he hit his career high in assists. Booker smiled and nodded.
“It was just so effortless. He wasn’t hunting assists. He was just playing in the flow of the game. He played like a perfect point guard tonight,” Durant said.
Jordan Clarkson scored a season-high 37 points for Utah. He has four straight games with 26 or more points, the longest such streak of his career.
Lauri Markkanen scored 21 points for Jazz, and John Collins had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
“It hurts to lose the game especially when you give yourself an opportunity to win,” Markkanen said.
The Suns (6-6) improved to 1-1 in West Group A while the Jazz (4-8) dropped to 2-1.
Jusuf Nurkic scored 15 points and Eric Gordon had 14 for the Suns, who have won back-to-back games for just the second time this season.
Booker powered a 16-4 run bridging the third and fourth quarter that gave the Suns a 107-99 lead with 10:15 to play, an advantage they held through the finish.
“Just punishing defenses and making them pay for over-helping or just any type of defense they throw at us, I feel like we have an answer,” Booker said.
After a 2-7 start and the loss of defensive anchor Walker Kessler to an elbow injury, the Jazz changed their defensive strategy to a switching, sometimes trapping scheme.
The problem was they often left Durant open for 3-pointers. He went 6 for 8 from deep.
“Kevin’s really good against every coverage,” Utah coach Will Hardy said. “The last play of the game, we’re obviously not trying to play one-on-one defense versus Kevin. The plan was to try to crowd him, climb up underneath him, make him dribble the ball.”
But Durant got a switch, crossed over with a dribble and hit the 3 for the dagger.
Booker, who has missed eight games with ankle and calf injuries, and Durant scored or assisted on every Suns basket in a 41-point first quarter, their top scoring quarter his season. They combined for 19 points and 11 assists.
Utah rookie Keyonte George, who had 15 points, scored eight in a 12-2 run that gave the Jazz its first lead of the game late in the second quarter.
The Suns and Jazz play each other again on Sunday.
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