Booker scores 32, Suns hold off Nets
NEW YORK — Mike James is not your typical rookie making plays down the stretch in an NBA game.
His previous experience consists of playing in the hostile arenas of international leagues where the arena noise borders more on the heckling side than the scoreboard telling fans when to cheer the home team.
James scored a career-high 24 points and hit two clutch shots in the final 2:33 as the Phoenix Suns blew an 18-point lead in the third quarter but made enough plays down the stretch to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-114.
Devin Booker led the Suns with 32 points, but it was James along with TJ Warren willing Phoenix (3-4) to its third win in four games since interim coach Jay Triano replaced Earl Watson last week.
“Anybody who’s watched the international game has seen some of the hostile environments that he’s played in and the pressure of some of those games,” Triano said. “The stands are packed with smoke bombs going off, firecrackers. They’re extremely passionate about the game, and that’s growing up right there over there.”
James reached double figures for the fifth time in seven games, producing a 9-of-16 showing after going a combined 3 of 18 in his previous two games. The 27-year-old guard produced the biggest night in the NBA, seven games into his career after spending five years abroad.
He signed with the Suns after leading Panathinaikos to a title in the Greek Basket League title and the Greek Cup. Upon signing with the Suns, he led Phoenix’s summer league team in Las Vegas with 20.5 points on 53.8 percent shooting and made the team on a two-way, 45-day contract.
“The game is so fast here,” said James, who also played in Croatia, Israel, Italy and Spain. “Leads go quick and people go on runs. We got to shore up, get back into your stuff and get out of it.”
James capped his big night after the Suns recovered from their meltdown in the third quarter and rallied from an eight-point deficit. With the Suns up 111-108, James hit a crossover 20-foot jumper with 2:33 remaining and then extended the lead to 118-110 with a short jumper about a minute later.
“Mike’s been great for us,” Triano said. “He’s done a good job of running the team, taking care of the ball, and he’s a threat to score. You can’t leave him, you can’t not pay attention to him. He reads pick-and-rolls extremely well, finds weak-side shooters. He’s a good point guard.”
Before James sealed the win with his jumpers, Warren scored all 20 of his points after halftime and grabbed 11 rebounds, helping the Suns to a commanding 66-44 edge on the glass.
D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 33 points but was not on the court when the Nets stormed back from an 83-65 deficit in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. He returned with 6:35 left in the fourth and Brooklyn up 106-98.
Phoenix scored the next nine points and used a 20-4 run to regain the lead. The Suns never trailed after Warren rebounded Booker’s missed 10-footer and converted the tip-in with 3:48 remaining for a 109-108 lead.
“Give credit to their group that was in there,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “They went on a run at the end of the game. They just took over. We didn’t make plays.”
Warren added another put-back before James hit his two key shots. Booker finished it off at the line after Warren blocked Russell’s drive with 27.5 seconds remaining.
The Nets lost their third straight after storming back with 17 straight points in a span of 4:20 in the third quarter. Consecutive 3-pointers by Spencer Dinwiddie late in the third quarter gave Brooklyn a three-point advantage, and the Nets led 88-87 going into the fourth.
After taking a 106-98 lead on a hoop by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets missed 11 of their final 14 shots.
“I feel like we should definitely make better decisions,” said Hollis-Jefferson, who scored 21 points. “That’s on us as a team.”
Before the lead changes in the second half, the Suns jumped on top late in the first quarter, opened a double-digit lead briefly in the second and took a 59-53 edge into halftime on three free throws by James after he was fouled by Russell with nine-tenths of a second remaining.
NOTES: Brooklyn rookie C Jarrett Allen (strained left foot) missed his first game. Coach Kenny Atkinson said Allen began feeling soreness at some point Sunday during the Nets’ 124-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets. ... The Suns were delayed by traffic about an hour as their team hotel was near the site of Tuesday’s reported terrorist attack on the West Side Highway. “It’s a sad thing when anything like that happens,” Phoenix G Mike James said. “I guess it’s really close to us. It kind of hits home for you when stuff like that happens.” ... Brooklyn F Quincy Acy (strained left groin) missed his second consecutive game. He is day-to-day. ... Suns F Devin Booker reached 30 points for the 22nd time in his career. Phoenix is 6-16 in those games.