DAN BICKLEY

Suns G Devin Booker’s maniacal ambition shaped him for limelight

May 11, 2022, 1:42 PM | Updated: May 12, 2022, 10:54 am

Playing dead?

The Phoenix Suns have been doing it far too often on their self-proclaimed Revenge Tour, where erratic performances have raised questions and anxiety levels in the Valley.

Playing dead?

That’s certainly what Devin Booker was doing under the basket on Tuesday, feigning injury after a flagrant foul in the second half of Game 5. Just so he could troll Mavericks star Luka Doncic.

After appearing to be knocked out cold, Booker raised his head, smiled at a nearby camera and called his performative agony “The Luka Special.”

If he were a Suns fan, Jack Nicholson would’ve been proud.

There are many things to say about Booker at this juncture of the playoffs. With Chris Paul marginalized by something unspoken, it’s clear that Booker must be the engine that powers this team to a championship. He can no longer be a co-MVP. He must be that dude. The alpha. Consistently awesome every night, making all the big shots when necessary, settling nerves and deciding games when spit hits the fan.

He seems more than ready for the moment.

I was blessed to work courtside for Michael Jordan’s ascent into American history. By happenstance, my radio partner, Vince Marotta, is currently doing the same for the trajectory of Booker. There are more similarities than most people think.

Jordan was fueled by maniacal ambition. Every year in his prime, he came back a better player. His hunger knew no bounds and had no rivals. He was the world’s most famous athlete, and he did his most important work in the hot shadows of summer.

Booker has done the same thing, consistently growing his repertoire of offensive moves. After Tuesday’s victory, Suns head coach Monty Williams said Booker has “shot-making ability that’s unique to very few people.” High praise, indeed.

Booker came to the NBA with a polished jump-shot and a scorer’s mentality. He’s learned to attack the basket with fury and power. He never strays from peak physical condition. He has underrated endurance. He’s worked hard to get to the free throw line in the NBA. He’s become an impact defender at his position. And just like Jordan, the latter says everything about Booker’s elite hunger.

After Tuesday’s victory, he also ranks second in Suns history on most points scored through 30 playoff games, behind Charles Barkley but ahead of Amar’e Stoudemire.

Booker has also had extremely long summers to perfect his craft. He won fewer than 25 games in each of his first four seasons as a professional. He had to get creative. He found himself burning so hot in the summer that he was famously double-teamed in pickup games. He deserves credit for staying focused through all the darkness.

“This is just what I’ve been preparing for,” Booker said after Game 5. “Even those seasons that we didn’t make it, I sat there and I took that anger to the gym and just imagined myself just being in those situations. And you know imagination is a big part of this.

“So I had to use some imagination on playing in playoff games in my workouts. I guess it’s working out a little bit. But we’ve some room to (grow).”

Booker has also raised the stakes entering Game 6 in Dallas. The video of Booker playing dead to mock Doncic has enraged the Dallas fan base. Luka isn’t exactly thrilled, either. Especially since Booker and Paul are just as guilty of the insidious flopping and foul-hunting currently permeating the NBA.

If Luka was the bad guy in Phoenix on Tuesday, Booker will be the villain on Thursday night in Dallas. He asked for it. He deserves it. He wants it. Best of all, he’s trained for it.

It’s his time. And the only way the Suns win a championship.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Penguin Air
(@Suns/Twitter) (@Suns/Twitter) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) gets fouled as he goes up for a shot against Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, grabs a rebound in front of Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock, left, during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) drives past Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, left, as Suns forward Mikal Bridges, right, looks on during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) wins the open tipoff against Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell (7) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder argues a foul called against him during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) tries to get off a shot against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) looks to shoot against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic smiles as he slaps hands with a Phoenix Suns fan during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks forward Davis Bertans (44) gets fouled by Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, right, shouts at referee David Guthrie (16) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) dunks against Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13), Mavericks forwards Maxi Kleber (42) and Dorian Finney-Smith, right, during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, gets fouled by Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith, left, as Booker goes up for a shot during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, left, alters the shot by Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, right, during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo, left, battles with Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber, right, for a loose ball during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns fans shout during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, middle, goes in for a dunk as Dallas Mavericks guards Spencer Dinwiddie (26) and Jalen Brunson (13) look on during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) drives past Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) to score during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo (18) and Dallas Mavericks forward Sterling Brown both miss a rebound during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic loses the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Referee David Guthrie (16) tries to separate Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo, middle, and Dallas Mavericks forward Marquese Chriss, right, as Mavericks forward Sterling Brown, second from right, agrues during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) and Suns guard Devin Booker, right, celebrate a score by a teammate during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban shouts as he stands on the court during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, right, argues with referee Sean Wright, left, during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) A Phoenix Suns fan holds up a sign showing Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic crying during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, left, Maxi Kleber, top right, and Boban Marjanovic, middle, watch from the team bench during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the second half of Game Five of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks at Footprint Center on May 10, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Mavericks 110-80. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder grimaces due to an injury during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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