DAN BICKLEY

Suns’ trio finds level of synchronicity, shot-making that puts NBA title squarely within reach

Apr 22, 2023, 5:19 PM | Updated: 7:36 pm

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker Kevin Durant Chris Paul...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns plays for a rebound against Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers as Chris Paul #3 and Devin Booker #1 look on during the first quarter of Game Four of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Crypto.com Arena on April 22, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Knock on wood. Speak in whispers. The basketball gods may finally be smiling on the Suns.

Maybe we’re not eternally cursed, after all.

After an alarming start to the postseason, the Suns have seized control of their first-round series against the Clippers. Their 112-100 victory on Saturday was gritty, greedy and essential.

It was anchored by more heavy production from Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. It continued the stunning postseason performance of Torrey Craig, who was inserted into the starting lineup before Game 1. And it featured an encouraging bounce-back performance from Chris Paul, whose dazzling fourth quarter included a circus shot that somehow found the bottom of the net.

Paul’s 12 points in the final 12 minutes were the dagger in Game 4, soothing the growing fears that an aging point guard might be approaching the point of diminishing returns, a liability to our title hopes.

That clearly wasn’t the case on Saturday in a matinee game that tipped off about 38 hours after Game 3.

“I’m just grateful for his mental stamina in these types of environments, where he’s missing shots one game and comes back the next game and just does what Chris does,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said.

The Clippers wanted to play faster on Saturday, attempting to punish the Suns for the heavy minutes logged by their stars. Their effort was commendable. The much-maligned Russell Westbrook was once again sensational, leaving his legion of critics adrift on a ship of fools.

But it wasn’t nearly enough against a Suns team that is emotionally devastating and exhausting to defend. Booker has scored 139 points in four games. Durant effortlessly fills up a box score. Both received plenty of help in Game 4.

This was a crucial victory because the Suns could not afford to give new life to an opponent missing its two superstars. They could not squander the opportunity they now possess — a chance to eliminate the Clippers at home in Game 5 and mitigate the enormous minutes currently shouldered by Durant, Booker and Paul.

“When you’re playing every other day in the playoffs, there goes load management,” Williams said. “But I think it’s something we are concerned about as (the minutes) pile up. But hopefully we can take advantage of these (two) days (before Game 5).”

Paul downplayed the issue of heavy usage, saying the heavy minutes are not as taxing as they look on paper. And Durant responded to the question with one of his own:

“How did I look tonight?” Durant asked.

This victory was also an inspiration. The Suns’ celebrated trio of All-Stars seemed to find a level of synchronicity and shot-making that puts an NBA championship squarely within reach. If this collective performance was more runway than anomaly, the top-seeded Nuggets will be under a lot of pressure in a much-anticipated second-round matchup.

As for the basketball gods?

After 5.5 quarters of this series, the Suns looked vulnerable. Some Valley fans took to social media early in Game 2, expressing fears of a potential Clippers sweep. We all felt the same things.

But from that moment on, Booker has ascended into an unstoppable force on both sides of the court. He’s been the NBA’s best third-quarter performer of the playoffs, and early MVP of the postseason. Paul finally broke the inexplicable curse of Scott Foster. And sometime after Game 2, Clippers’ superstar Kawhi Leonard experienced significant swelling in his knee. He has been on the shelf ever since.

For a franchise that has experienced every form of torment in its elusive search for a title, it seems like all the bad stuff is finally happening to everyone else, from injuries to misfortune to a heavy-handed suspension from the NBA’s front office.

After 55 years, it’s about 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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