Ayton has 35, Suns hold off Thomas, Nets in Booker's return

NEW YORK (AP) — Deandre Ayton matched his career high with 35 points, Devin Booker scored 19 in his first game since Christmas and the Phoenix Suns held off Cam Thomas and the Brooklyn Nets 116-112 on Tuesday night.

The 21-year-old Thomas led a late charge and finished with 43 points, becoming the youngest player in NBA history with three straight 40-point games. He had 44 and a career-high 47 points in his previous two games.

Mikal Bridges had 17 of his 21 points in the second half and played a key role in the defensive effort that cooled off Thomas just long enough for the Suns to build a 12-point lead with 2:25 remaining.

Booker missed the previous 21 games with a strained left groin. but had a strong stretch after the Suns led by just three midway through the fourth quarter. He scored six points and set up Ayton for another basket during a 13-4 run that pushed it to 109-97 with 2:25 to go.

Thomas rallied the Nets mostly from the free-throw line, and his intentional miss with 4.1 seconds remaining left the Suns with a 114-112 lead. He then fouled Ayton, who finished it off with two free throws after going 14 for 18 from the field and grabbing 15 rebounds.

Nic Claxton and T.J. Warren had 17 points each for the Nets, who lost on back-to-back nights after trading Kyrie Irving and fell to 5-9 without the injured Kevin Durant. They opted not to play Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, the players they acquired from Dallas in the trade for Irving.


Suns: Chris Paul surpassed 2,500 steals, a mark reached by only John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Michael Jordan. He had nine points and 12 assists.

Nets: Brooklyn was also without Seth Curry (left adductor strain) and Yuta Watanabe (back tightness). ... Coach Jacque Vaughn said Durant continues to progress well in his recovery but still hasn't been involved in the any portions of practice where there is contact. Vaughn said he didn't know when Durant would take that step, and he won't play before he does. The Nets only have four games remaining before the All-Star break.


Dinwiddie spent five seasons with the Nets and recalled when he signed a multiyear deal in December 2016 after coming into the league as a second-round pick who battled to prove he was more than a G League player.

“My career’s been hard, and that right there kind of solidified knowing, like, my family’s going to be fine,” Dinwiddie said.

He said there was nostalgia being back in Brooklyn, where he averaged a career-best 20.6 points in 2019-20, and praised Finney-Smith's ability to be an important contributor to the team.

“Understanding that we may not be the best trade package, but we are the best-looking and the Nets needed some help in that department,” he joked.


The Nets dealt forward Kessler Edwards to Sacramento for the rights to 2016 second-round pick David Michineau and cash. Edwards began last season on a two-way deal before playing well enough to earn a standard NBA contract, but had appeared in just 14 games this season.


Suns: At Atlanta on Thursday.

Nets: Host Chicago on Thursday.


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Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press