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Suns guard Devin Booker dominates first chance at close out game

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Booker had waited five seasons to get an opportunity like Thursday

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker recorded a season-high 47 points en route to his team’s 113-100 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of its first-round series on Thursday night to advance to face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.

Booker, who ranked among the top players in the league in first-quarter scoring this season, had 22 in that period on 8-of-9 shooting, including 6-of-6 from 3-point range. His six triples tied an NBA playoff record for most 3-pointers in a quarter.

Booker finished the game with a 15-of-22 shooting clip, including an 8-of-10 mark from 3-point range, with 11 rebounds and three assists.

After the Suns took a 48-19 lead with 7:44 left in the second quarter, Booker helped the Suns fend off multiple Laker runs with key shots in timely possessions. He had 10 points in the third quarter and four in the fourth, which kept Los Angeles from cutting its deficit to fewer than 10 points in the second half.

“We had a conversation after Game 3 about, their (the Lakers’) defense is so good and they shift to the ball so well, he’s not going to get another look after the first one presents itself,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “So that was the mentality that we wanted him to have, and he’s a gifted scorer.”

Booker played 46 minutes — nine more than the Suns’ next-closest player, starting forward Jae Crowder — but had no issue finishing off the game, according to Williams.

“Players like Book have a determination about them, and I’ve said this about him a number of times: He doesn’t run from the moment,” Williams said. “And in this particular moment, the moment was the whole game.”

Booker and the Suns will next face the third-seeded Nuggets in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Denver defeated the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in six games to advance past the first round.

Phoenix went 1-2 against the Nuggets during the regular season, though each of its losses came in overtime in late January, arguably before it found its rhythm as a team. Booker said the Suns will celebrate their first-round victory over the defending champions on Thursday night before turning their attention to their next opponent.

“It’s only one series, and we still have a lot of work to do and this team over here, these guys are battle-tested and they’ve been farther than the first round,” he said.

Here’s more on how Booker reacted to his first career playoff series win.

On the emotions of getting his first playoff series win with the Suns:

“It means a lot. Like you said, it’s been a long time coming. A lot of work, a lot of sacrifices went into this, a lot of losses. But it’s only one series, and we still have a lot of work to do and this team over here, these guys are battle-tested and they’ve been farther than the first round. Jae Crowder was in the (NBA) Finals last year, so we’re not going to celebrate our first series like we won a championship. We know we have a tough opponent in Denver coming up soon. I think the game is Monday, but we’re going to take tonight, take the plane ride home, celebrate and get on to Denver.”

On when he felt himself get into rhythm in Game 6:

“I was just locked in. To be completely honest, from when I woke up, I had a tough time taking my pregame nap all out of excitement. I knew we treated this game like a Game 7. We knew we had to come in and we were stressing since we won the last game that we wanted to end it here on their home court.”

On his postgame emotions when he looked to the sky and put his hands together:

“Honestly, I was thinking about [Kobe Bryant] and the conversations that we had, kind of about what we just went through, the postseason and being legendary and taking the steps to get there. So seeing that ‘8’ and that ‘24’ (Bryant’s numbers) up there with the way that the lighting at Staples (Center) has right here, it feels like it’s shining down on you. And I know he was here tonight. I know he was here tonight, I know he’s in the building, I know he’s proud.”

On what his father, Melvin Booker, shared with him leading up to Game 6:

“There’s so much. My dad has helped me a lot, especially in my basketball career from a very young age. We’ve sacrificed a lot of hours and a lot of time to this sport. So I know he wanted this — probably the only person that wanted it more than me was him. Just, ‘having a short memory,’ is some of the best advice he leaves me with and just going out there and compete. I’ve been in gyms with him, I’ve played on his team, I’ve played against him and he always competed at the highest level, and I think that rubbed off on me a little bit.”

On the Suns’ resiliency when the Lakers made runs in the second half:

“We’ve been tested. This group has been tested this year. (Starting point guard) Chris (Paul) has always preached to us during the year, ‘These little moments during the regular season might not seem much, but they can lose you a game in the playoffs.’ So just hearing that in the back of our head throughout the whole game and hearing him repeat it today, you just have an understanding that every game matters.”

On how much his 47-point performance validates the work he has put into his craft:

“I’m not in the business to validate what another person thinks of me or what everybody else thinks of me. This game doesn’t define me. I have a family, I have very close friends that I speak with every day. And to me, my relationship with them is more important than what anybody can say about me. So I have a tunnel vision of goals that I want to reach, and if I sit back and worry about validation from ‘Billy Bob’ or whoever it is, that’s taking away from my goal, and that’s taking away focus of the real goal that’s at hand for me and my family.”

On when he began to focus on studying film during his career and how it has helped him make in-game adjustments in the playoffs:

“I’ve been a fan of the game for a really long time, I’ve always paid attention. I’ve always watched games all the way through, and not just the ones that are televised. I’m on (NBA) League Pass faithfully. So I’ve dedicated my life to this game, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But it did enhance — it enhanced through the playoffs. You hear about the playoffs through my first five years, people are like, ‘It’s all about adjustments. Every game has its own personality. Something’s working one game, they’re going to take that away the next.’ So just hearing that and being a student of the game and watching the playoffs in the past and having a really good understanding of that.

“I think my first playoff series was a great attest to that, to making adjustments and every game just being totally different.”

On embracing starting center Deandre Ayton after the game:

“Having a conversation with Deandre and seeing the leap that he made during this series, nobody’s harder on DA than I am. And it’s been like that for a few years. So I know he has a lot of different voices in his ear between me, (Suns) coach (Monty Williams) and Chris, I know he’s hearing a lot. But I just told him I was so proud of him for seeing the leap, and we still have a lot of work to do. We didn’t come into the season to say, ‘We want to win one series and be done.’ So we have a lot of work to do.”

On getting off to a fast start with Crowder also hitting multiple 3-pointers:

“Just coming out, I think we communicated to the team, ‘We can’t be timid. That’s not how we got to where we’re at, the No. 2 seed in the NBA.’ We just have to let it fly, trust our work that we put in, and this group works top to bottom. I see it every day. And so I think when coach said that to us, I think it was before Game 4, ‘Let’s stop being timid. Let the ball fly, trust what we’ve been working.’ And it worked out well for us.”