If Devin Booker didn’t have a place in your heart prior to his Game 2 performance on Tuesday, he does now. His gritty play in the Phoenix Suns’ 104-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers cemented him in Suns playoff lore. Bloody and battered, with gauze and stitches on his nose, he persevered through pain and questionable calls to help his team take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Suns fans have seen this before. In Game 1 of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals versus the San Antonio Spurs, Steve Nash busted his beak while making a steal attempt on Tony Parker. The result was something out of a Rocky movie, with Nash profusely gushing blood as he attempted to guide his team to a victory.
The scene wasn’t pretty. Neither was the result. The Suns lost that game, and eventually the series.
Although the bumping of the noggins on Tuesday night in Phoenix between Devin Booker and Patrick Beverly wasn’t nearly as violent, and certainly less bloody, it brought back those memories of Steve Nash.
I guess you aren’t truly a Phoenix Suns legend until you bleed for this team in the postseason. Devin had to head to the locker following the collision in the second quarter.
Beverly & Booker bonk heads pic.twitter.com/ZH7yoDKV6c— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) June 23, 2021
Nash knows that Booker got off easy pic.twitter.com/KZbazmGFZF— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) June 23, 2021
Clippers head coach Ty Lue inserted Patrick Beverly into the starting lineup with one goal in mind: to disrupt Booker’s rhythm. Getting a head butt to the snout is one way of doing that. But hard nosed, pestering defense, coupled with continual doubles and switches is another.
If you were to look simply at the box score, the strategy paid off for Lue. Booker has his worst shooting night of the postseason, going 5-of-16 (31.3%) from the field and turning him over 7 times.
Yet it is what Booker did on the final offensive play for Phoenix, something that you won't find in a box score, that was the personification of Devin and this team. With 0.9 seconds left in the game and the Suns trailing by one point, you’d think that the play call would be to the two-time All-Star. It wasn’t.
Monty Williams had Devin Booker use his gravity as an opportunity to set a screen on Ivica Zubac, thus freeing up Deandre Ayton for a slam dunk. It was executed to perfection, from Ayton’s roll to Booker’s screen to Crowder’s pass to Ayton’s finish. This play will go down in Suns history and has been dubbed to as the “Valley Oop”.
Devin Booker shared his thoughts on the final play in his postgame press conference:
“That’s just execution at it’s finest. Took everybody: Jae passing it, Deandre setting his man up, Coach Monty believing in him and believing in us to run that. It was a big play for us. Any time you can come out with a win in the playoffs, especially a close one like that, I think it’s big for momentum.”
When asked if he had faith in the play being executed, Devin responded with a laugh. “I believe it could happen. I’ve seen it happen! I believed in it 100%.”
Devin Booker was a third-year player when, on December 26, 2017, Suns head coach Jay Triano drew up a similar play with 0.6 seconds left against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was Dragan Bender to Tyson Chandler in an epic ending that garnered the Suns a victory back then — one of only 21 that season.
“When Tyson ran it the first time — that was like four or five years ago now — I learned that rule and I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t know,” Devin recalled. “Even talking to Rondo at half court after the game, he was like, ‘It don’t count’. I was like, ‘I’ve seen this movie before. It counts’. It’s an incredible play. Incredible execution. Again, Jae Crowder, that’s a tough pass.”
Booker knew his part on the play wasn’t to be the focal point, rather, he was to set the screen that would free up the rolling Deandre Ayton. “Teams aren’t going to leave me,” he said, “so any type of hit that I can get to make them change direction and to get DA an ounce of free space for a chance to go get it.”
“He had to set up his man for me to be able to get a hit. I keep saying it, but credit Jae Crowder’s pass. That’s a tough pass to make, for real, it is. That’s very impressive.”
Late game situations you get away with a little bit more. I know if I just make him change it direction or at least take a step under to give DA a chance to get his feet together. I knew my man wasn’t going to leave me so I was just trying to get the angle underneath him to give him a clear line to the rim.”
Booker went on to answer other questions posed my local and national media.
On Deandre Ayton:
“His growth, he continuously, through every game from game 1 of the playoffs, I feel like he flipped a switch and he turned it on. He doesn’t want to look back. He feels his confidence is there and he understands how much of a force he is and I think he’s figuring out his capabilities of being able to move, being able to guard and t the same time, setting screens and being in the right place. Tonight, I seen it. He extended his midrange. He can give it to you in all types of ways.”
“He’s been working. You see the work behind the scenes makes you feel that much better. Times haven’t always been good. He’s went through some things in this league and he’s just continued to get better, matured himself. He’s a dominant force on our team and we lean on him for a lot of things.”
On foul calls:
“You can’t change a call after it happens. You get one challenge, we used that early. You just kind of have to deal with it. If you put your energy in the wrong place, trying to justify what happened two or three plays prior, you’re letting your team down. It’s a next play mentality.”
On the offensive foul call called on Booker after he brushed Patrick Beverly’s face, which was reviewed but never called on the court:
“I’ve never seen that before. I tried to get an explanation. I don’t know.”
“I was disappointed because we had a wide open shot in the corner. Even if we got the ball back, you let them set their defense when they just made a miscommunication that resulted in an open shot.”
“We all need to work. We all need to get better. It’s taking ownership. If we miss an open shot, we come and we say my bad. We don’t come back with 100 excuses, we just move on to the next one. That’s all we’re looking for out there is consistency and a fair chance to play. To answer you question, I didn’t understand that one.”
On the physicality of the game:
“That’s for you guys to decide. They’re an aggressive team, that's how they guard. It’s not just Pat Bev. All those guys. Watching their previous series against Dallas and Utah, switching everything, trying to turn a team over. We’re figuring out, we trying to stay aggressive, stay with what we do. We’re not the ones making calls.”
“That’s for the refs to decide. I know we have a team over here that, if teams are trying to play jump defense like that, to take me out, Cam Payne’ll kill you. He’ll go after you. He’s not scared of the moment. he’s not scared to make a play. There’s a lot of denying, picking up full court. I feel like that opens up opportunities and space to other people to get it going. That’s what we’ve been banking on all season. We’re a complete team. Our depth. Even our players that haven’t gotten a chance to get in the playoffs. We just get after it every day as a team.”
On the nose:
“It feels better now. If it was a loss I think it’d hurt a little bit more. It’s good. Bout to go get some scans, gotta get a mask ready.”
“Never had a broken nose.”
When Rachel Nichols asked how did he feel looking at himself in the mirror, Book responded, “Still pretty confident. I hadn’t seen it until after the game. I came back here a they put a couple of stiches on the top. My first time seeing myself was after the game. They’re telling me that it wasn’t broken. Just a little crooked.”
On what he was saying to Rondo and Cousins at half court after the Ayton dunk:
“I was just saying, ‘Go Big Blue’, from my Kentucky days. That’s all I was saying.”
It was a gutty performance by Devin Booker, who received all of the flowers prior to Game 2 following his Game 1 40-point triple double. He might not have had the greatest game of his career, but his perseverance and dedication to doing whatever he could to help his team win was amazing. What other superstar is going to set a screen instead of taking a shot in that situation?
He added another chapter to his legacy as he is trying to help the Suns win a championship. These are the moments, my friends. These are the moments.