PHOENIX SUNS

Devin Booker’s coronation begins as Suns even series vs. Nuggets

May 7, 2023, 9:00 PM | Updated: May 8, 2023, 9:38 am

PHOENIX — In England, a new king has officially assumed the throne. In Arizona, the coronation is just getting started.

When words begin to fail, what else is there to say about Devin Booker?

In two must-win games at Footprint Center, Booker was as clutch as he was ruthless. He fueled a raucous Game 4 victory over the Nuggets, stripping the opponent of their swagger and their soul.

The numbers say Booker is playing at a level very reminiscent of a young Michael Jordan. As someone who covered Jordan’s championships in Chicago, I can attest to the following:

When fur hit the fan, Bulls fans always knew that Jordan would deliver. That he wouldn’t let his teammates or his city down. Booker is setting the same tone. He has made 34-of-43 shots and scored 83 points in the past two games, evolving into something indomitable and impossible to guard.

Remember when Booker and Jamal Murray were considered on the same level? The comparison seems laughable now.

“Just trying to make quick decisions,” Booker said postgame. “Just trying to make the defense pay.”

Generally, a team that holds serve at home after facing a 0-2 series deficit gains a psychological advantage based on their resilience alone. Winning two games on the brink is far more impressive than playing from ahead. You can definitely feel the shift in momentum after Game 4, a night when our journey of atonement again came into great focus.

Already this postseason, Chris Paul exorcised his Scott Foster demons; the Suns have not only absorbed yet another playoff injury to Paul, but they‘ve been better without him, playing with far more energy and pace; the Nuggets’ obsession with Booker unlocked an unexpected scoring barrage from Landry Shamet in Game 4, pleasing the same fan base that had begun to boo every time he checked into a game.

The Suns’ bench has been considered a heavy liability in the postseason. In Game 4, they outscored the Denver reserves 40-11.

“Our bench came through and made big shots, made big stops,” Kevin Durant told reporters postgame.

Finally, Deandre Ayton is an enigmatic player who sulked after his benching in Game 3, even though his effort level was unacceptable. But the team rallied around him, and when Ayton pulled down three offensive rebounds on the very first possession of the game, the crowd went bananas.

“I thought DA’s first possession set the tone for the game,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said postgame.

And if that wasn’t enough.

The game featured a wild altercation between Nuggets star Nikola Jokic and Suns owner Mat Ishbia, which ultimately resulted in Jokic pushing the owner with his left forearm. Ishbia clearly flopped on the playing, drawing a technical on Jokic and firing up the crowd in the process. While Ishbia didn’t want to discuss the incident, his head coach at Michigan State (Tom Izzo) would’ve been proud.

“He got us a point,” Booker said.

The NBA could conceivably suspend Jokic for the incident. And if the league does penalize the Nuggets star, it might feel like long-awaited payback for the heavy-handed suspensions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw that cost the Suns their best shot at a title in 2007.

“I didn’t even know what was going on, it’s never my focus,” Williams said. “I just saw a crowd over there … I just hoped no one was hurt.”

Personally, I hope the NBA doesn’t suspend Jokic, who poured in 53 points in Game 4. Let the Nuggets lose at full strength, with no excuses or alibis.

Booker and the Suns deserve nothing less.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7.

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