Devin Booker’s first experience in the true big-boy All-Star game — as the first representative of the Phoenix Suns in almost a decade — was something neither he nor the rest of us will ever forget. After decades of boring half-speed action, including yet another three quarters even this year as they took turns winning money for charity, the fourth quarter of the 2020 All-Star was one for the ages.
If you fell asleep — sorry East coasters — or assumed yet another yawner and decided to go to a movie instead, you missed possibly the greatest, if sloppiest, pickup game in the history of professional basketball.
Imagine getting the world’s most talented basketball players together for a weekend, have them play a few half-speed-no-defense exhibition quarters, and then OKAY GUYS YOU HAVE 12 MINUTES, RUNNING CLOCK, NO COMMERCIAL BREAKS, ONLY THE MOST EGREGIOUS FOULS CALLED, FIRST TEAM TO 157 WINS... GO!
Never quite seen anything like that 4th quarter. Hall of Famers on Hall of Famers with total will and desire. The ultimate big boy game.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) February 17, 2020
Felt like 4th quarters of 2016 Finals & 2008 Gold Medal game but with even more talent.
Brian Windhorst has been LeBron James’ personal media man for about 20 years, including 9 NBA Finals and several international-stage competitions. If anyone knows what a unique 4th quarter that was, Brian Windhorst would.
They were playing for charity, but they were really playing for pride. Those boys could have, literally, been playing for a nickel (you know, that little silver thing you occasionally find deep in a drawer that someone tells you used to be commonly used to buy things) and they still would have torn each other apart to get the win.
The quarter began with Team Giannis up by 9 points after three slow-burn periods, 133-124. Under the new rules, you tack on 24 to the leading team’s points and that’s the mark to shoot for: 157. That means Team Giannis just needed to get to 24 points before Team LeBron got to 33.
Running clock. No commercials. Almost no fouls called, unless the player with the ball was unable to muscle his way to a shot without breaking a limb. By mid-quarter, the score was basically tied and the big boys put the kids (first-timers, including Devin Booker) to bed while they finished the game.
They didn’t have any plays. Just five guys against five guys, playground style.
LeBron’s team came storming back to reach 157 first, using LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and James Harden down the stretch. Team Giannis had the lead most of the game, and nearly pulled it out with Giannis Antetokoumpo and Joel Embiid carrying them down the stretch, along with Pascal Siakam, Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry.
To give you the best flavor of this quarter, the two most influential players on the court were often Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul. They are not among the 10 most talented players in the world, but they might be two of the most competitive.
Here’s the final few minutes here. Once it got down to 1-2 possessions to win, the game took another 9 minutes to complete. There were a few foul calls here late as players were competing tooth and nail to get the advantage, but it’s still a supremely fun ending despite the way the final basket was scored.
Devin Booker got to watch all this supreme effort on both ends from the best spot in the arena, and now he knows what the intense basketball truly looks like. Now he knows the difference between regular season and elimination-style basketball from the greatest athletes in the world.
“I’ve got to earn my stripes,” Booker said afterward.
Booker talked a bit this weekend about having to get over his hurt feelings for not being picked by the coaches for the original All-Star team. Even Damian Lillard said he called Booker personally to talk him into taking the injury-exception spot, and Booker later revealed that lots of NBA players reached out too, including Chauncey Billups who didn’t even have Booker’s number before sending the unsolicited text.
But when Booker committed, he did it in true Booker fashion: by going as hard as he could.
First, he nearly won the Three-Point competition.
Buddy Hield beat him out in the Finals on the very last shot, but Booker definitely acquitted himself and nearly won it all.
Then on Sunday, Booker played 19 minutes (mid-pack among the 12-player rotation) and scored 6 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and 1 block.
Here’s the highlight of the day for him.
Booker later joked about the play with the reporters.
“I don’t even know how I did that,” he said with a laugh.
"I don't even know how I did that."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) February 17, 2020
Devin Booker on his one-handed putback dunk that got the entire #TeamLeBron off the bench in Sunday's #NBAAllStarGame
"I think I caught a few people off guard with that one. #Suns #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/eEkyZLoeWL
Booker tells media he’s still going “off the grid” for a few days before coming back for the last third of the season. The Suns next game is Friday, in Toronto.
Let’s hope his spirits are buoyed by truly being an All-Star this season, and that he’s focused on helping the Suns win as many games as possible to close out the season.