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Devin Booker shines in long-awaited playoff debut

After being long questioned for his ability to lead a winning team, Devin Booker looked like a postseason veteran on Sunday

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In his NBA playoff debut, Phoenix Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker finished with a game-high 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting along with eight assists and seven rebounds in his team’s 99-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Booker’s 34 points were the most in a playoff debut in Suns franchise history, over 30 years of playoff debut opportunities since 1968.

Booker, who has been the face of the Suns’ franchise for the last few seasons, was part of a losing team in each of his first five seasons in Phoenix, including three groups that finished at the bottom of the West. He and the Suns have craved a chance to perform on the biggest stage, and they maximized it on Sunday with a near wire-to-wire victory against the defending champions.

Booker faced extensive pressure throughout the game and was forced to take on more of a playmaking role when starting point guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder contusion in the second quarter. Booker tied Paul with a team-high eight assists and was an inspiration to his teammates with his efforts.

“Getting to that basket, hitting tough shots,” said Suns starting forward Mikal Bridges. “That’s who he is man, he’s been ready for the moment and he’s always going to be who he is.”

After the Suns’ win, Booker spoke about his emotions of his first playoff contest, the keys to the Suns’ victory and what his team will look to continue in Game 2.

On his approach leading into his first playoff game and advice he received from some of the Suns’ veterans:

“I’ve been one, watching the playoffs for a very long time and a student of it and dissecting it. So understanding that it’s a next-play mentality, there’s going to be some play-through calls. It’s a high-intensity game. Like tonight, there’s going to be something that goes on. But keep the tunnel vision, that’s what it was tonight.”

If the Suns’ win was a statement and what they’d like to take forward in the series:

“I don’t think you can make statements versus a team like this, the defending champs. They’ve been down this road before, but we just have to worry about ourselves, honestly, and just come in ready to play for a full 48 minutes. And then that’s it.”

On how the team’s focus helped them stay poised through Paul’s injury and Payne’s ejection:

“I wouldn’t even say throughout this week, it’s been a whole year of it. It’s been a summer of it, preseason, offseason. These are the moments that we’ve been waiting on. (Suns) coach Monty (Williams) always preaches, ‘When preparation meets opportunity.’ And it’s that time right now.”

On starting center Deandre Ayton’s performance while defending Lakers forward Anthony Davis:

“That’s next-level. You could see it, you could see it in his face pregame that he was ready to go. And as a collective whole, us being on him a lot during the game, getting him prepared for this moment, he responded to it and he stepped up. So that’s big time.”

On his thoughts when Paul went down and how the team performed when Paul was out:

“Obviously, my first thought was his health and hopefully, the injury wasn’t too bad. Obviously, very excited to see him come back out and into the game. The team responded, we huddled up and Chris has been a leader for us throughout this whole season and a lot of us rely on him at every point of the game. So to see him down like that in pain, it’s obviously tough but we know he’s a fighter and we have a team full of fighters.”

On how he felt the Suns did in limiting Davis and Lakers forward LeBron James:

“We did well tonight, but it’s one game. No matter how much we won by, no matter how we played, Game 2 is going to be a whole different opportunity. But it’s obvious what those guys are capable of, we just try to make it tough on them.”

On the Suns’ execution in transition and if it’s something they can continue to execute in this series:

“If we can get stops, if you’re not taking the ball out the net, it’s easier to do that. But that’s the pace we’ve been playing at a lot this season and that’s when our offense has been most efficient, I feel like.”

On his emotions before his first playoff game:

“I was ready for it, very excited for it. From this whole week of building it up and these whole past six years of getting ready for this moment. So there’s something going on inside me but it went away quick.”

On when Sunday’s contest began to feel like a regular game for him:

“Honestly, it’s a little different. The intensity is different, the physicality is different. But that’s only one game. So let me get a series under my belt to feel it out a little bit more and I’ll have a better answer for you.”

More on Payne’s ejection:

“Cam came to me in the locker room, first thing he said was, ‘My fault.’ He wanted to be out there for us and just understanding that there’s going to be some of that extra going on. But we have to have that right mentality, next play approach and just get it done.”

On his teammates’ toughness during the game:

“I loved it, but I don’t question anybody in this group. We’ve been together for not that long but a full year now, and just understanding everybody’s character and understand what we say is, ‘How they’re built.’ We have a team full of built individuals that are ready for this moment and have been waiting for it for a long time.”

If he felt like he had to take on more playmaking responsibilities with Paul’s injury:

“100 percent. Just impose my will to the point where it puts a defense in rotation, trying to make the right play. I think they were doubling me a little bit on defense, so trying to get off of it quick. We have four other guys that can play out there and 10 more on the bench. So I trust everybody on this team and when somebody doubles, it’s easy for me to give it up right away and put them in rotation.”

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