At some point in the second half of Game 4 of the Wester Conference Finals, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker ditched the facemask that’s been protecting a nose broken in three different places in Game 2.
Booker’s nose is still swollen and clearly at risk of re-break, but he just could not get comfortable playing with it since the injury, which happened on an unintentional head-butt from pesky Clippers defender Patrick Beverley.
Booker removed the mask after missing a driving, finger-roll layup in the third quarter.
“You don’t realize how much you get hit in the face until you take it off,” Booker said with a chuckle. “You know, I can get surgery after the season.”
With or without the mask, Booker did not have a good shooting game. He was 5-for-13 before removing the mask, and just 3-for-9 from the field afterward. Overall, he was 8-22 in the game, including 0-5 on threes.
Fun fact: the Suns starting lineup was 1-14 on threes, and as a team they were just 4-20. No player made more than one three-pointer in the whole game. And oh yeah, the whole team made just 36% of their shots in the game.
“I’m not blaming anything on the mask, but I haven’t played basketball with a mask ever in my life. So it takes some getting used to. But at that point in that time I didn’t want it.”
Booker fouled out of the game with just over a minute left and the Suns had just a five-point lead (79-74). He drive hard to the rim for a layup or shooting foul to give the Suns a 7-point lead, but Patrick Beverley jumped in front of Booker and drew the offensive charge. Suddenly, the Suns best scorer was out of the game.
“Tough,” Booker said of the feeling when he fouled out. “Because you know I let my team down in some aspects, grabbing some pretty cheap fouls early in the game. And you’re not thinking early in the game how that can affect the end, so it’s a learning lesson for me.”
Then he smiled and said, “And it’s easier to learn after a win.”
Now the Suns will face an even more desperate Clippers team on Monday night for Game 5 in Phoenix. With a win, the Suns would qualify for their first NBA Finals in almost 30 years (1993).
While Booker might be okay with needing nasal surgery after the season to repair any re-breaks of the nose, he runs the risk of an injury so severe he can’t continue playing as the Suns try for their first-ever NBA Championship.
“I don’t know, I haven’t decided,” he said of whether he would wear a mask in Game 5. “I might have to go back to it, but you know at that time in that place I didn’t want it on.”
Here’s more of what Devin Booker said after the game.
On Chris Paul making only his second Conference Finals appearance and the chance at going to the Finals
“I have a lot of respect for him as a man, not even as a basketball player. Just understanding how bad he wants this, and how much time he’s put into it. Sixteen years, that’s a long time.
“When we made the Western Conference Finals, he’s like ‘I’ve only been here one time’. So we know how bad he wants it. Same with coach Monty, I get that same feeling from him. Me and Deandre are sitting here, and Mikal, this is our first time in (the playoffs). It’s a little spoiled but it came with a lot of work. But we definitely have his back.
On thinking ahead about possibly making the Finals
“We know it’s on the table. We know it’s there, we can’t hide that. We’ve kept the same mindset the whole playoffs and the whole regular season honestly. It’s just building this thing brick by brick, game by game. We’re not looking too far ahead, saying who we’re going to get in the Finals or anything like that, but we definitely understand that if we win the next one we’re into the NBA Finals.”
On having Tyson Chandler — NBA champ and US Olympic Gold Medalist — as a vet so early in his career
“People talk about my situation I was in and how it was unfair to me, but I always see the bright side and being able to develop a relationship with somebody like Tyson that has accomplished everything that I want to do in this league. So I always leaned on him, and I still do. That relationship is here forever... He says once you get a taste of it, there’s nothing else you’re gonna want in this world. So, I’m trying to get there.”
On Deandre Ayton wearing a shirt with Booker’s broken-nose face
“I honestly didn’t see it till I saw it on social media. I rode the same bus with him and I looked at him and once I saw I said ‘of that’s hard’. He said ‘I was hiding it from you on the bus, I was sitting like (arms folded over shirt)’. Obviously, it’s like a replica of Steve’s moment.
“That means a lot. That’s my little big brother. We have a relationship that’s bigger than basketball. It’s taken time to develop it. I’m so proud of him and strides that he’s taken. For him to honor me in that way, that’s love for real.”
On taking care of his body to stay fresh this late in the season — by far the longest of his career
“I feel good, honestly. It’s time consuming, taking care of your body.” (Talked about his whole setup in his house, including infrared and light stim. Gave credit to head trainer David Crew, says he talks to and see Crew more than his mom.) “We’re always together. He’s on the same page as us. He understands how important our health is and he puts in the extra time and he spends a lot of time working on me.”
On teammate Deandre Ayton, who grabbed 22 rebounds including 9 on the offensive end of the floor, to help the Suns win a game where they shot just 36%
“That’s his nickname, Dominayton. He definitely earned that tonight in many ways. I heard Chris tell you guys about shootaround, just how animated he was saying ‘this is my paint, I’m protecting it tonight’. And doing that on both ends. I know how it makes a team feel when you give up offensive rebounds. I think we gave up seven in the first quarter. Those aren’t easy plays for a team when you guard a whole possession and a team gets a second-chance basket. It’s hard to keep him off there. His stature, his build, his motor. He works. I think he’s finally realizing how big and strong and how agile he can move and it’s paid off big for him. And us.”
On other pivot points and areas of development for Ayton in these playoffs
“Everything. Everything. He’s brought a whole nother level to these playoffs, to angles of screening, to understanding the game. Not understanding just who his matchup is but we’re guarding and what they like to do. You’re gonna see a lot of pick and rolls at him just every single game. That’s just the offense of the NBA. And just understanding tendencies of different players, of not the ones that he’s guarding. That usually takes a few years. So for him to grow up on the fly in this short amount of time is very impressive. But you see him putting the time in off the floor. I don’t know how much basketball he watched prior but he comes up to me about every game now and has conversations that we didn’t have in the past so I know he’s tuned in and he’s focused. Like Chris said earlier, Monty is so detail-oriented you have to be like that. Understanding little plays and understanding what people like to do can make or break a game. So that’s really impressive with him.”