NEW YORK — A look of relief and happiness was etched across Devin Booker‘s face inside the Phoenix Suns‘ locker room after a 116-112 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
After missing a month and a half while rehabbing a groin injury suffered during a Christmas night loss to the Denver Nuggets, Booker returned to score 19 points in 26 minutes as the Suns won their third game in a row.
“That’s all I want right there, man,” Booker said. “Just competition, being back out there with the band, feeling that energy, feeling that presence. The team has it rolling right now, so just inserting myself in a way that wasn’t disruptive and try to keep the flow that they have.”
Booker’s return gave the Suns an emotional lift and continued to build confidence for a group that has dealt with injuries to key players throughout the season.
“Devin’s attitude is always he just wants to eat,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Kill and eat. That’s how he operates. And he’s a winner. And he wants to do everything he can to win the game. I thought the guys got a great deal of energy from him tonight just being on the floor. Everybody’s excited that he’s back.”
Booker’s return almost took a backseat to Nets second-year guard Cam Thomas‘ ongoing scoring roll. Thomas, 21, became the youngest player in NBA history to score 40 points in three straight games after scoring 43 points in Tuesday’s loss.
“It’s real surreal,” Thomas said. “I’m just glad to have my name in the history books, being this young. Obviously I’d rather have the win because it sounds better when you have these 40-point games with the two [games] that we lost.
“But it’s just good to have my name in history, I’m just going to embrace it … just be proud of all the hard work you put in.”
Thomas wasn’t the only player putting up career numbers on Tuesday. Suns big man Deandre Ayton tied a career high with 35 points and chipped in 15 rebounds. Like many in the Suns’ locker room, Ayton was pumped up to see Booker back on the floor, but also was motivated by some outside noise about his own game.
“I see what the people say about me,” Ayton said. “I had a bad start to the season. If it wasn’t ankle injuries it was some other sickness or some bullcrap that got in my way.
“And this is more like an adversity type of season for me and shows what type of player I truly am and me just sticking with it and just blocking out all the noise and the haters and all that stuff. Just getting back to the things I do best, and that’s just being dominant.”
With Booker back in the fold, the Suns are confident they can keep the wins coming as they head into the All-Star break and beyond.
“We’re happy, we ain’t complaining,” Suns guard Chris Paul said of getting Booker back. “We didn’t have a season where — we’ve got a starter from last year who’s not even with the team [in Jae Crowder]. I’ve been out, Devin’s been out, Cam Payne is out, Cam Johnson had surgery and came back. So we want anybody we can get on the court, especially Devin.”