Suns vanquish Lakers behind Devin Booker’s Mamba Mentality

Jun 3, 2021, 11:01 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2021, 2:15 pm
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers is guarded by Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns in the...
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers is guarded by Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns in the fourth quarter during game six of the Western Conference first round series at Staples Center on June 03, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Fill a glass. Raise it high. A toast to the Valley’s first love.


The Suns are moving on.

They have vanquished a nemesis and a king, and the postseason is just getting started. They survived a first-round playoff series against the defending NBA champions and the second-best player in history. They found their wings in an uphill series full of wild momentum shifts. They dealt LeBron James his first-ever first-round playoff exit.

At times, they rubbed salt in wounds. For most of the last two games, the Suns embarrassed the Lakers. They led by 30 points at halftime in a pivotal Game 5 and by 22 points after the first quarter in the decisive Game 6. It felt like karmic payback for all the garbage we’ve endured over the past decade.

Take a deep breath. Enjoy the view. Now that the clouds have lifted, the mountaintop is not that far away. The Suns have a legitimate, navigable path to the NBA Finals.

This must be our finest moment as a big-league sports town since … when, exactly? Alvin Gentry fighting off food poisoning in the Western Conference Finals against Kobe’s Lakers, hurling in a bucket so he wouldn’t miss a possession? The Diamondbacks winning a one-game playoff against the Rockies because their bearded relief pitcher hit a triple? Since Carson Palmer and the Cardinals survived two Hail Mary completions from Aaron Rodgers in the final minute of regulation?

The demolition of the Lakers feels much bigger. This was a miniseries full of twists, dirty fouls and hard left turns. This series was a celebration of Deandre Ayton, who was all man and no child; Cam Payne and his indomitable underdog energy; Chris Paul and his legendary toughness; Jae Crowder’s fearlessness; and most recently, Devin Booker.

Booker set the tone in Game 6, just like he did in Game 5. He lit up the Lakers with 22 points in the first quarter, 33 in the first half and 47 by the time his volcanic mouth almost got him ejected from Thursday’s game. He’s both polished and raw and utterly combustible — and I wouldn’t want him any other way.

Booker must have felt something deeply personal on Thursday, conjuring up his spiritual kinship with Kobe Bryant (“Be Legendary”); his current relationship with an L.A. celeb-icon (Kendall Jenner); his upstaging of LeBron in the final two games of this series, including a Mamba-like slaying of the Lakers.

Before the playoff started, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that beating LeBron on the big stage ranked among the hardest feats in sports. Booker made it look easy. Booker closed the door like an assassin, just like his idol demanded.

After the rollicking start, the game turned into a slow-leak nightmare. The Suns committed careless turnovers. Ayton wasn’t the same kind of beast. Payne fell apart, missing a wide-open layup and fumbling away an easy pass. The Suns lost their edge, intensity and aggression while waiting for the clock to expire. The final countdown was excruciating.

But the Suns were never truly threatened. They weren’t going to lose this game. They weren’t going to lose this series and here’s why:

In basketball, a selfless team can beat a super team. A sincere, cohesive group with great chemistry can topple a team with elite superstars, especially when one is aging and the other is fragile. And in the end, a fist will beat fingers every time.

The Suns have served the game of basketball with an inspiring team full of hardcore dudes and lovable goofballs, a team that doesn’t believe in shortcuts or load management. And after 11 long years of futility and dysfunction, look at us now.

The game finally loves us back.

Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray leaves the field after an NFL football game against the ...
Dan Bickley

Resilient Cardinals get by Texans, set up Thursday showdown vs. Packers

The hardest games to win look the easiest. The most dangerous opponents are the bad teams still playing hard. The Cardinals escaped both.
2 days ago
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (...
Dan Bickley

Suns’ season starts off uneasy, just like Deandre Ayton’s contract situation

Welcome to a new year in Phoenix, when Deandre Ayton’s contract status is part of every narrative, one that’s not going away anytime soon.
6 days ago
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz sits on the bench during the first half of a preseason NFL ...
Dan Bickley

Zach Ertz trade is proof the Cardinals are all in for 2021

Zach Ertz has pedigree. He has a Super Bowl ring. His presence is a declaration. He is proof the Cardinals are all in to win in 2021.
11 days ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates a defensive stop against the San Francisc...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals earn forgettable win over 49ers to stay atop NFC West

Victories last forever. Even when they’re instantly forgettable. The Cardinals played one of those games on Sunday.
16 days ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second quarter in the game ...
Dan Bickley

Kingsbury’s turnaround with Cardinals starting to silence some doubters

Six weeks ago, Kliff Kingsbury’s seat was the hottest in professional football. Now he is among the early favorites to win Coach of the Year.
17 days ago
Owner Robert Sarver stands with the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns beat the ...
Dan Bickley

Sarver’s past makes stalled Deandre Ayton contract talks alarming

The Suns are playing a dangerous game. They are perilously close to contaminating elite team chemistry. They might kill the vibe entirely.
21 days ago
Suns vanquish Lakers behind Devin Booker’s Mamba Mentality