DAN BICKLEY

Devin Booker returns to his happy place as Suns even series with Clippers

Apr 18, 2023, 10:35 PM | Updated: Apr 19, 2023, 8:47 am

PHOENIX — Devin Booker was back in a familiar place on Tuesday night: His happy place.

He was the best player on the court. He was the best point guard on the Suns. And after one of the finest quarters of basketball he’s ever produced as a professional, Booker might’ve just saved the season.

“It’s that time of year,” Booker said. “Everything counts.”

It all changed with one shot.

Booker’s dramatic three-pointer at the end of the first half hit Phoenix like a lightning bolt, igniting the building and a fan base waiting to erupt. His playmaking in the third quarter unlocked a stagnant offense, where Booker produced 18 points and four assists, accounting for 28 of his team’s 33 points.

From there, the Suns never relinquished control.

Booker’s performance did more than break the Scott Foster curse, a referee loathed in Phoenix for what many believe to be a personal agenda against Chris Paul. Before Tuesday’s 123-109 victory in Game 2, Paul had lost 13 consecutive playoff games when he shared the court with Foster.

“I didn’t notice,” Paul deadpanned after the game.

It did more than ease the growing anxiety in the Valley. The Suns looked badly out of sorts in the first half. Their offense appeared broken. Their defense was porous and suspect, yielding easy drives to the basket. Their head coach was already under renewed scrutiny for his own playoff foibles, and when the Suns fell behind by 12 points, the mood was growing dark.

That’s when Booker happened. And his performance at point guard gives Monty Williams an interesting option if Chris Paul continues to look his age (he turns 38 in early May). Or if he erodes any further over the course of the postseason.

“Coming out of the break, it was just juice, toughness, grit,” Williams said.

Booker wasn’t alone in this triumph. Deandre Ayton kept the Suns in the game in the second quarter with his feathery touch. Torrey Craig justified his promotion to the starting lineup by making a fistful of treys. Kevin Durant finished with 25 points, even though he struggled mightily in stretches. And when the team sealed up its leaking defense and locked in on rebounding, the competitive balance began to shift.

Booker’s downhill aggression created unmistakable energy. And on the rare occasion in the second half when Russell Westbrook burned Booker on a drive to the basket, he missed the dunk, triggering joyous taunts of, “West-brick!” throughout the arena.

That’s when you knew the night belonged to Phoenix.

“We just wanted to come out and respond,” Booker said.

For the first six quarters, Kawhi Leonard and Westbrook were the two best players in the series. Booker put an end to that, squaring the series with his first transcendent performance of the postseason (38 points, nine assists). Hopefully, there’s more on the way.

Bottom line: Math isn’t always a friend of the Suns. Their bench is suspect and thin. They don’t specialize in taking and making three-point shots.

But they have two superstars in Booker and Durant. And in the NBA, two beats one most every time.

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

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