Devin Booker has his moment, turbocharges Suns’ playoff push
We thought the moment Devin Booker had deserved for years was a few minutes playing in the All-Star Game in February, albeit as an injury replacement, but that never felt right.
Tuesday was more like it.
Booker hit a game-winning buzzer-beater as time expired in Tuesday’s 117-115 Phoenix Suns win over the Los Angeles Clippers, outdueling two of the league’s best in the process.
The win puts the Suns at 3-0 in the bubble and only one game out of the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings, which would put them in a play-in for the West’s last playoff spot.
It was fitting that Booker was double-teamed essentially three different times with six seconds left: Ivica Zubac’s blitz, Reggie Jackson’s denial of the paint and then Kawhi Leonard’s help from the corner.
“I have to trust the decisions he makes in those situations,” Monty Williams said, acknowledging that he nearly called a timeout. “I know he wants the shot.”
In a testament to how Booker has consistently approached big shots, he put it as “what happened, happened.”
“Not a big celebration guy,” he said. “They caught me on the ground so I couldn’t get away from them.”
Booker finished with 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting to go with four rebounds and eight assists.
The 23-year-old hit tough shots and made ridiculous plays off the dribble all game long. His points and assists totals in all four quarters: 12-1, 5-3, 10-3, 8-1.
In the early going, it was from deep, and I mean deeeeep for a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter.
The second quarter included his best pass. Booker improvised a scrapped possession by sprinting off the bounce and perfectly timing a feed to the corner.
In the third quarter, Booker had Leonard defending him like most of the game and he still managed to convert on difficult looks over him.
He kept it rolling in the fourth before the game-winner.
It was a complete superstar performance, one in which he was guarding George well on the other end for stretches as well.
Booker has had a handful of these, but it’s different when it really matters.
It speaks to what his goals have been this entire time, over nearly five seasons engulfed in losing and organizational chaos that was never ever close to being on him.
Through that, he’s been relentlessly slept on. Booker’s mocked for double teams, putting up 70 points in a loss and ranked 15 spots lower on lists than he should be, all for “not being a winner” as if he wouldn’t be capable in a different scenario.
Tuesday’s shot was as if someone at least cracked the window for a room overflowing with that nonsense, suffocating to anyone who simply wanted him to get his due nationally.
There was a clear change in demeanor from Booker entering this past season. It wasn’t as if he appeared to really care what anyone else thought in the first place, but now he looked at peace with only needing to meet the standards he sets for himself.
So that’s why it wasn’t shocking to hear Booker decline on treating this like a big moment at all, because it isn’t for him.
When asked if he was going to allow himself to take in the significance and symbolism of the shot with how far he’s come, he said no.
“Every game is a new opportunity for us to get better and we have end goals in this team, he said. “I have personal goals for this team I want to reach. I want a reputation in this league as a winner. Through five years, I haven’t got to that part of my career yet but I’m working as extremely hard as I can to get there.
“I feel like we have a really good bunch to do it. A lot of guys in this locker room are locked in at all times and approaching the game with the right mindset and that’s all we can ask for.”