EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s legacy-building continues in Suns’ win vs. Lakers

Jun 1, 2021, 11:27 PM | Updated: Jun 2, 2021, 12:58 am
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives as Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) defends...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives as Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) defends during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Devin Booker’s “Be Legendary” tattoo is a reminder of a message from the late Kobe Bryant, and it’s what he wants to achieve in the NBA as he really starts to build his legacy.

Booker’s a lifelong fan of the league and has the highest amount of respect for its history. The 24-year-old knows how moments can pile onto one another, taking shape on the fly to create what a player will end up being known for.

His favorite team of all time is the Detroit Pistons of the early-to-mid-2000s. A young Booker grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and watched Chauncey Billups become “Mr. Big Shot.”

That was Billups’ legacy. And while a magical night in Boston and some other blips in his young career at least got some fuel in the engine for Booker’s, and Tuesday’s 115-85 Phoenix Suns win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 and his postseason debut might be what we look back on as his liftoff to superstardom.

Everyone watching was waiting for that LeBron James game we’ve seen time after time in the postseason, one he dominates single-handedly to seize the momentum of a series up for grabs.

But it wasn’t the King who did that. It was the Suns’ Prince That Was Promised.

Booker was tremendous from the start. He scored 18 of his 30 points in the first quarter. After having a handful of terrific opening periods in the regular season, Booker finally had one in the series that he was struggling to find a rhythm in, the defining trait of his play.

Studying film and conversations with head coach Monty Williams and backcourt mate Chris Paul had Booker on the lookout more for some “easy quick ones” that were there in tight windows.

“In the previous four games, I’d be on him to shoot more,” Paul said. “There’s really not a bad shot that he can take. And he just made the right play … That’s why he is who he is.”

As Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard tweeted, Booker is “a smooth criminal.” He plays at his own pace, knowing when to speed up or slow down. With no Anthony Davis for the Lakers, everything seemed to finally open up for the first time since Game 1.

After Booker hit two of his first three shots, he got a pair of ridiculous and-ones to fall that signaled whose time it was and an early appearance for “the bad man.”

Suns head coach Monty Williams said the Suns barely called any plays in the first quarter, with the smooth transition of good defense to offense and Booker’s shotmaking serving as an overwhelming tidal wave into the Lakers.

Speaking of the Lakers, there was no response from them. Booker’s charge in the first with Cam Payne was a 16-0 run, and after the Lakers got back within five at 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Suns closed the half on a 37-12 spurt to lead by 30 at the half. The Suns didn’t even have a turnover until the late second quarter.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter, but he was relying on his jumper, clearly not 100% and unable to be the slashing force to the rim he’s been his whole career. His effort cut down the Suns’ lead from 30 to 29.

Booker finished with 30 points, seven rebounds, five assists and one turnover. He shot 13-of-23 from the field.

“It was just exciting for us to see Book be Book,” Paul said. “Tonight is what we’ve seen from him all season long and he was taking the shots we wanted him to shoot.”

As all stars do, Booker had a performance that allowed his teammates to play off him. Mikal Bridges had the second-highest total of points among the starters with 13. Deandre Ayton has been the Suns’ best player in the series, but he didn’t need to be on Tuesday and only attempted three shots. Payne added 16 off the bench.

Phoenix had 29 assists and just four turnovers, the first time in the five games that the Suns were able to break 25 assists.

“Taking care of the ball against the number one defense in the league is huge,” Williams said. “When we can get stops and take care of the ball, it gives us a chance to be efficient.”

Paul had the most on the team with six. He appeared to re-aggravate his right shoulder injury in the third quarter, looking to be in serious pain. Williams said after the game there’s no official update from the team but that he thinks Paul could be OK. In typical Paul fashion, he said he’s a little banged up and he’ll be alright.

Because of Booker’s love for the game and this league, there will be no misunderstanding when it comes to the significance of this playoff run.

The bad man said it himself on how it evolves for him over time. It sure holds up with Game 6 on deck in Los Angeles and a 3-2 series lead.

“Every next game (in the playoffs) is the biggest game of my career,” he said.

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