No Chris Paul, no problem.
Without the Phoenix Suns’ starting point guard in attendance due to health and safety protocols, his running mate, Devin Booker, shined in his team’s 120-114 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday afternoon, recording his first career triple-double with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists on 15-of-29 shooting in 44 minutes.
Booker had 18 of his 40 points in the third quarter, helping the Suns answer a 16-2 Clippers run that put them in an 84-78 deficit with 3:45 left in the period. Booker had 12 of Phoenix’s points during a subsequent 15-9 run to end the quarter, allowing them to tie the game at 93 with positive momentum.
From there, Booker helped the Suns close their first Western Conference Finals win since the 2009-10 season with an 11-point, six-rebound and five-assist quarter, including a lob pass to starting forward Mikal Bridges with 2:35 remaining to earn his triple-double.
“I mean, it’s very special, but the win feels better,” Booker said. “That’s what I’m out there for the whole entire time, so part of the triple-double is assists and that’s my teammates making them pay for running and doubling and seeing different types of defenses. The rebounds come from (starting center) [Deandre Ayton] boxing out when he has (Clippers centers Ivica) Zubac or [Demarcus Cousins] and me coming in and getting the rebound. So it takes a whole, collective team group to get what we got done tonight.”
Fun fact: Devin Booker is the first Suns player with a 40-point triple-double since Charles Barkley in 1993.— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 20, 2021
Funner fact: The Suns won both home games exactly 120-114. pic.twitter.com/dworc0rpgF
The Suns have now won eight straight games, extending their longest winning streak in their postseason history. Phoenix also shot 49-of-89 (55.1 percent) from the field, a new high during this playoff run.
After Sunday’s win, here’s what Booker had to say about his performance.
On recording a 40-point triple-double in his first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance:
“I mean, it’s very special, but the win feels better. That’s what I’m out there for the whole entire time, so part of the triple-double is assists and that’s my teammates making them pay for running and doubling and seeing different types of defenses. The rebounds come from (starting center) [Deandre Ayton] boxing out when he has (Clippers centers Ivica) Zubac or [Demarcus Cousins] and me coming in and getting the rebound. So it takes a whole, collective team group to get what we got done tonight.”
On how mentorship from former Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Suns starting point guard Chris Paul aided his performance:
“I’ve been a student of the game for a really long time, and [Kobe] obviously being one of my mentors and Chris being one of my mentors and not being able to be here with us today, we wanted to do it for him. We talked about that pregame, we knew we were all going to have to give it a little bit more. Ball security, my job keeping everybody involved. Stuff that’s usually on Chris’ plate, we all had to make for today as a team. Just the mentality, people say the ‘Mamba Mentality,’ just the approach of doing whatever it takes at all costs to get a win. It might not be 40 points the next game, it might be more assists or making more plays for my teammates, the hockey assists. So every time down, just valuing every possession, and that’s something that Chris doesn’t talk about much but he’s second-to-none in that category. So just picking up bits and pieces and using them to my advantage.”
On when he felt like he got in a rhythm while playing at point guard:
“It’s just reading the game, from beginning to end. It’s the playoffs, teams are going to make adjustments, teams are going to throw different defenses at you. So the preparation with our team and our coaching staff, I feel like we’re ready for any type of defense that we see. Obviously, they’re playing a smaller lineup and they’re going to be switching a lot of actions, so we have to find ways to counter that. But really good defensive team over there, aggressive defensive team over there. So we just have to take care of the ball and make the right plays.”
On talking with Paul over FaceTime as he left the floor:
“We put him on FaceTime. He’s our leader, we lean on him for a lot, and we know how disappointed he is and frustrated he is he couldn’t be out here for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, especially knowing his past history around this time. But we know we had him all the way through. We brought him in the locker room, we had him in our after-game room. So he’s proud of us. He’s ready to get back, he’s working. We can’t wait to have him.”
On how the Suns fared against the Clippers smaller lineup to smart the game and when they went bigger with center Ivica Zubac in the second half:
“That’s what we expected. We’ve been watching their games, we’ve been scouting them and they use a small-ball lineup a lot. But it’s a different matchup, we have a different team and Deandre has seen that before and we try to take advantage of that. We try to use our size as an advantage. I think the first play of the game, Deandre got an offensive rebound and laid it in, so hopefully we make teams adjust to us and use our size to our strength when we try to use those lineups and when they go big, we get right back to what we do.”
On where he would rank this performance among others in his career:
“I’ll let you guys do the rankings. I’m just going out there to win every game possible and I’ve been saying it since the start of the playoffs, every next game is our biggest game. So that’s for everybody else to rank performances and that such, I’m just out there trying to do my job and that’s to win basketball games at all costs.”
On the pace of the game and the Suns’ poise down the stretch:
“The pace of play, that’s what we’ve played with all season. We rely on our defense and if we get a stop, it lets our offense move [with more flow], move freely. Any type of set or play in the playoffs, teams have scouted that, so they understand that. So (Suns) coach (Monty Williams) always says he puts us in environments, and we just have to make plays. Make basketball plays, be aggressive and put them in rotation. And that’s our job, one through five, is everybody do their part and just go out there and hoop. But it starts on the defensive end and guarding.”
On how he felt when he grabbed his 13th rebound to secure the game with 4.6 seconds remaining to secure the win:
“It felt good, man. We want to protect home court, so that was big for us to come out and secure that one. I don’t know if I showed that much emotion through the playoffs that much, but not having Chris out there and being a high-intensity game, we wanted that one bad. So it’s obviously only one, we know what they’re capable of, what they’ve done, came back down 0-2 from their past two series. So we got to stay locked in.”
If he knew he was on his way to a triple-double during the game:
“Nah, man. I mean, I think I’ve came close a few times in my career and just never got over the hump. But I’ll take it now.”
On the shots that he and Clippers starting forward Paul George traded in the third quarter and if he felt it was important to take over at that point:
“Just trying to assert my aggressiveness in there. Without Chris taking on the playmaking role, trying to find the balance of keeping everybody involved and imposing my will in the game. I think they got up six or eight, I know what stretch you’re talking about, and I just wanted to be aggressive. So we did a lot of high ball screens, and just get to my spot and make some shots.”
On his “old-school” approach to basketball with his mid-range shot, fundamentals and the way he carries himself:
“It’s a product of my environment. I always credit the different situations that I’ve lived in and growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and moving to Moss Point, Mississippi. And then for me at that time, that was a big culture shock. Just two totally different demographics, but I fell in love with culture, figuring out people and why they act the way they are and it’s usually where they’re from. So just being a sponge to it, being a sponge to everybody around me, everybody I grew up with and just seeing different things and loving culture and loving people. So that’s where it came from.”
On how important it was to play 44 minutes, have two turnovers individually and seven as a team:
“Every time you say turnovers, I think of Chris. I’ve been alongside him all season, and just watching him control the game and how he just never turns the ball over. When he does, it’s a rare sighting. So I knew that was going to be a key for us today was taking care of the ball, with the type of defense that they play, aggressive-style defense where they gamble a lot and will reach. They’ll reach and we just have to be ready for that. I think if we take care of the ball, it’ll put us in a pretty good situation. We usually get a good shot.”
On how committed he’s been to perfecting his mid-range shot:
“That’s pretty much been my game my whole life. I’ve never shied away from it and I never have not took them shots. And I feel that’s what a lot of defenses give up, living by the so-called analytics. But I think it’s for certain players, and if you put your work in and you shoot those shots at a high clip, it’s tough for a defense to guard that because that’s what they’ve been giving up all season.”
On his trust for his teammates:
“I always trust my teammates. But usually the first few minutes of the game is scanning and analyzing what’s going on and what they’re throwing at you. I watched all of their games versus Utah and Dallas and watched how they guarded (Mavericks guard) Luka (Doncic) and (Jazz guard) Donovan (Mitchell), so we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to throw at us and continue to throw at us. So with a small-ball lineup, they’re going to switch a lot of action and they’re going to run and hit and double. It’s kind of hard to time it because they do it randomly, but I trust my teammates. It’s easy to get off the ball and have somebody else make a play. We’ve been doing that and punishing teams with that all season.”
On what Suns general manager James Jones and Williams mean to him, especially with them being Black men in positions of power and the doors that can open for others:
“I think that’s the biggest part of what they’re doing. People are realizing, understanding what’s going on and who the real basketball minds are that put countless numbers of hours into their craft and their work. And I’ve seen those situations of being on the court before. So it’s easier for them to approach us with conversation when they have an understanding of where we’re coming from. And I think that connection, the general manager and the head coach, that connection, that relationship with the players is very important if you want to win big.
“You have to give your props to (Clippers coach) Ty (Lue) over there also, coaching their team. So the game is transforming, you see more African-Americans in position. And I think it’s going to continue to happen if you continue to see success and understand how important the relationship aspect of it is.”
On the Suns adjusting to not having Paul at multiple points this postseason:
“It’s tough. But we talked at the beginning of the season and said, ‘If we want to get to where we want to go, you know you’re going to have to come out of something.’ It’s not going to be gravy all the way through, it’s not going to be sweet all the way through. So our job is to control the controllables. Whatever the situation is, we have to adjust to it and we have to keep playing through and keep playing hard. And that’s the story of our team, that’s been it for the whole season. Just keep playing hard, no matter the circumstances, all 48 minutes.”