Bickley: These Suns make you ecstatic to be in Phoenix during summer heat
PHOENIX — Devin Booker knows how to make an entrance. He pulled up to work on Monday in another classic car from his collection. He was dressed completely in black. He parked in a spot reserved for “Colangelo.”
Only a real boss can get away with that.
A few hours later, Booker had forged another brilliant Game 1 performance, once again setting the tone for the game and an entire series.
He played fast and decisively. He scored 27 points. He looked positively thrilled to have Patrick Beverley out of his jersey and in the rearview mirror. The only thing that will stop him from setting the NBA record for most points in his playoff debut might be a four-game sweep of the Bucks.
“It’s the formula for any team (to be successful),” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “You want to win every game, but especially the first game. It gives you a level of confidence.”
The Suns’ 118-105 victory was their 13th playoff win in 17 tries. They scored 20 fast-break points. They devoured the Bucks’ switching defense, goading Brook Lopez into a minus-17. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer has a reputation for waiting too long to make adjustments, but his strategy effectively allowed the Suns guards to choose the defender of their liking. Their starting five combined for 96 points and the only guy with Finals experience (Jae Crowder) didn’t make a field goal.
Pinching yourself yet?
After yet another rollicking house party in downtown Phoenix, the Suns are three victories removed from getting championship rings to the two most-deserving athletes in professional sports: Chris Paul and Larry Fitzgerald.
You can sense Paul closing in on a career-defining achievement, spotting the finish line for the first time in 16 years. He erupted in the third quarter of Game 1 and now has 73 points in his past two games.
“We just know he’s ready, man,” Mikal Bridges said. “He’s prepared his whole life for this moment.”
Meanwhile, it was also a great night for Cam Johnson, who missed that raucous Game 6 victory against the Clippers with food poisoning, spending most of the night in the bathroom.
“I thought he was great,” Williams said.
There was a fear that a healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo might change the calculus. He did not, even though the Bucks tried their hardest to spring the two-time MVP as a game-time surprise. After all, Giannis started the day as “doubtful,” only to see his team run an alley-oop for him on the very first play of the game.
But Booker’s breathtaking start stole all the proverbial thunder from Antetokounmpo’s show of resilience and toughness. A clutch three-point shot stole the last gasps of life from the Bucks, a team that had closed within seven points in the fourth quarter. This summer is shaping up as just rewards for all he endured early in his career, where he might pull off an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal.
There was also a fear that soaring ticket prices at Phoenix Suns Arena might change the decibel level, pricing out the youthful passion that has served as the soundtrack of the postseason. It did not.
In fact, the energy in Game 1 was so ear-splitting that veteran NBA scribe Marc J. Spears said Phoenix now boasts the loudest arena in the league.
Think about that for a moment.
Whether it’s the Suns’ status as Arizona’s first love or the pent-up frustrations that came with 10 years of dysfunction, this postseason has been more than a revelation. It is proving an important point to a region full of transplants and mixed allegiances: Nothing is better than a home team that galvanizes the community.
And these Suns have done the impossible: They make you ecstatic to be in Phoenix in the month of July.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.