PHOENIX – Devin Booker kept his response short.
“I feel so good,” he said about his 42-minute night in Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets. “Blessed to be out here.”
It has been a privilege for sports fans to watch Booker. The Phoenix Suns’ guard impressed again with 47 points on hyper-efficient 20-of-25 shooting in the team’s 121-114 win over the Nuggets in front of 17,071 fans, the 78th consecutive sellout at Footprint Center.
Booker, who stepped up as a playmaker with point guard Chris Paul out due to a left groin strain, also had nine assists and six rebounds.
“I think one, that’s who he is,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That’s his makeup. He doesn’t run from the tough stuff, I’ve noticed that since I’ve been around him…He understands not having Chris puts more on his plate, but I don’t think he forced it the way that you would think. I think he allowed the game to happen naturally.”
Booker took the game over in the first quarter. He had 18 points and showed the world his playoff performances to this point have not been uncharacteristic.
Booker carried the Suns, who struggled offensively early with Kevin Durant making just one of his first eight shots. Phoenix got a boost off the bench with wings Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren, but it was still Booker who pushed the team to a lead.
When I asked Kevin Durant about his rhythm, he said he’s rushing some shots and “thinking too much” but is close to where he wants to be.
“it’s just part of the process and the journey, and I think I’m getting there to a point where I’m super comfortable with the team.” https://t.co/dW0CXVKSOs pic.twitter.com/TeDUj1gIcR
— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) May 6, 2023
The Suns built their largest lead to 15 points at halftime, Booker entering the locker room red-hot with 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting.
Durant, who finished with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, said he was at “a loss for words” on Booker’s postseason. The Suns’ guard has scored 295 points through eight postseason games, the most since Michael Jordan had 325 in eight games in 1990.
Kevin Durant was asked if there’s anything he’s learned about Devin Booker in these playoffs.
Reporter: “You knew this was the guy you were coming to play with?”
Durant emphatically responded, “Yes.”
Also said he’s “at a loss for words” on Booker’s postseason. pic.twitter.com/EwR2RvDZUu
— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) May 6, 2023
“I don’t understand why this is such a surprise to anybody,” Durant said. “He’s been doing this since day one.”
Williams added more about Booker’s development in his four seasons as Suns coach.
“He’s grown just because of the experiences,” Williams said. “He plays winning basketball, we won a little bit and he’s been in some big-time games. I think that allows for everybody to see his game expand on a big stage.”
The Suns’ culture is different from when Booker arrived. Phoenix had several franchise legends attend Friday’s game, including Eddie Johnson, Shawn Marion and Dan Majerle. Booker is no longer part of a disastrous team that finished at the bottom of the Western Conference for three straight seasons.
Booker is the man now on the biggest stage, a status he’s desired for decades.
“It’s all I know,” Booker said. “This is all I’ve dreamed of as a kid.
“Just the people that came before me, man. My dad [former Big-8 Player of the Year Melvin Booker] played, and just being a fan of the game was my way through life. So it’s not time to fold up now.”
The Suns still trail the Nuggets 2-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals. Phoenix has to win Sunday or will face a 3-1 deficit, which only five percent of teams in NBA history have recovered from.
The Suns – and Booker – have not been here before. In the last three postseasons, they have held home-court advantage and managed at least a series tie through three games. When they last trailed 2-1, it was against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs. Phoenix won that series in six games.
Booker is entering his prime, facing a moment that could define his legacy. If he carries the Suns out of this series, it would be an incredible accomplishment.
He cannot worry about that now, though. He is focused on the moment, letting his response flow through his game.
“People asked me after last game, ‘There’s going to be a lot on your plate moving forward,,’” Booker said. “That’s what it is. So seeing it for what it is and just enjoying every moment.”
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