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Booker has another magical night, now wants the recognition the Suns deserve

After helping Suns clinch NBA’s best record this season, Booker wants to see them get post-season awards

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

What a difference five years makes.

Way back in 2017, the Phoenix Suns had a brash 20-year old scorer looking to make a name in the league. He’d already been lauded by some of the NBA’s best as a future star, but no one saw a 70-point game coming out of him.

That Suns team was a devastatingly awful. On March 24, they arrived in Boston in the middle of a 13-game losing streak after the decision to strategically rest their best veterans to secure the highest possible draft pick (hello, Josh Jackson!). Those resting/”injured” veterans included max-men Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, along with T.J. Warren and Tyson Chandler.

Boston, a solid playoff team, coasted through the game with a huge lead. Within minutes they were up 22-3, up 13 after one quarter, and by 23 at halftime. Book’s teammates that night: Tyler Ulis, Alex Len, Derrick Jones Jr., Marquese Chriss, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley and Alan “Big Sauce” Williams. Even when Book started going supernova in the second half, Boston didn’t change up their defense to get the ball out of his hands. Instead, they just single-covered him with good defenders like Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown

Book was so hot, and the Celtics lead so comfortable, their fans started cheering him on to set a record. He did, becoming the youngest ever to score 60 in a game and then, of course, youngest to reach 70.

Relive the game here...

Boston would go on to make the Conference Finals, while the Suns would finish with the second-worst record in the league.

Two years later, the Suns were having an even worse season when Booker drained 50, then 59, then 45 in back-to-back-to-back games from March 25-30 in 2019. But because the Suns lost all three of those games, Booker was not even given the ‘Player of the Week’ award. For the season, he averaged 26.6 points, 6.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds, but was never in consideration for All-Star or All-NBA because, he was told, his team didn’t win enough games.

Book remained quiet and reflective, desperate to get to the “beauty in all this”.

‘Looter in a riot’ was floated by a national reporter and it stuck. That 70-point game became an indictment rather than an achievement. To be sure, Book had lost more games than any other player since becoming a starter for the tanking Suns in December 2015. He had become a poster child for a perpetually bumbled rebuild.

Then his fortunes changed when new General Manager James Jones hired head coach Monty Williams and, later, acquired teammate Chris Paul.

Now, on the five-year anniversary of that 70-point game, Devin Booker has experienced more WINS than any other NBA player over the last 2+ seasons, counting playoffs and Olympics. He’s made three All-Star teams, helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals in 2021, scored more points than any player in history in their first playoff run, become the 4th youngest player ever to each 11,000 points, and now has helped them clinch the best record in the NBA for the 2021-22 season.

Yet, Booker still feels disrespected at times. Influential media still give all the credit for the Suns winning games to Chris Paul, despite Book going 8-0 in the 2020 Bubble, 4-0 the next season, and 8-3 this season without Paul next to him in the lineup. Small sample sizes, sure, but what other team can lose ‘the guy who wins them games’ and still win almost every game without that guy?

Not just media. He gets a lot of negative attention from opposing fans too (usually angry their team is losing) and can’t help but jaw back at them when he gets heated.

“Honestly, it’s people playing with my name, man,” Booker says of lingering criticism. “It’s too much for me. I’ve been at it for a long time now. I’m the type to see anything and take it as disrespect. That can get me going.”

Opposing players and fans went hard at Book, with him going hard back at them, the last two nights. But in the end, Book got the last laugh: scoring 77 points and dishing 17 assists in a pair of back-to-back wins over playoff-level teams to secure the top overall playoff seed in the league.

The Suns have such a lead over the rest of the league (9 games), they’ve clinched that best record earlier than any team has in more than 20 years.

Now, with their playoff position sewn up, Book and the Suns can take a moment to reflect on what’s going on.

“We’ve been after it, from the Bubble on, to get better,” Booker said after Wednesday’s win, in his usual understated manner. “And it’s turned into something really nice.”

On his 5th anniversary of that 70-point game, Booker has not lost one ounce of fire or scoring ability.

He poured in 49 points to will his Suns to victory over the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back with the Nuggets playing one of their best games of the year.

Book might have been fueled by Nuggets fans, players and even the game operators.

During pregame intros, the Nuggets video team reportedly showed the Suns starting lineup on the big screen and swapped Booker’s face for a random Clippers player.

“I was laughing,” Booker said later. “I know that was on purpose. It’s all fun and games, but we got the last laugh for, you know, the last few games against them. That’s a good team they got over there, because it got me going for sure.”

Don’t just call Book a scorer though. He’s never been just a scorer.

On that 70-point night, that 20-year old also dished six assists to create 13 more points (one three-pointer) and total 83 points created in their loss to Boston. Remember who those teammates were?

On the five-year anniversary of that game, on a much bigger stage with an All-Star cast around him, he scored 49 points and dished 10 assists to create 25 more points (5 were three-pointers) and total 74 points created in their win over Denver. He also grabbed three steals at crucial points in the game.

Book usually doesn’t dwell on things he cannot control. He just wants wins. And he’s gotten more of them than anyone else the last two years, including playoffs and Olympics.

Now, he wants respect. For himself, and for the Suns.

“The main objective is to win basketball games,” he said. “And they’ve been telling me that since I was 18 or 19. So, now that we have the one-seed locked up, been winning basketball games for two years straight now, this team needs some flowers. Coach Monty should have been Coach of the Year last year.”

This is what happens in the lull between locking up the top seed and the playoffs actually starting. For the next few weeks, the Suns on-court goals are few. They only need to win three of eight games to set a franchise record for wins in a season.

Other than that, the only thing you dwell on is something you cannot control: respect from the people with the power.

Who’s got the power? The media, actually — those who give out the post-season awards like Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, All-NBA and All-Defense teams. Contract bonuses and guarantees are often tied to those awards, yet the players can only hope the 100 or so voting media give them the ‘flowers’.

“There’s just been so much that, you know, doesn’t get talked about on this team,” Booker said. “We’ve done a good job of not worrying about what people say about us, but we need some recognition.”

Damn right, Book. Damn right.

Regardless, these Suns are warming up for another Finals run and making sure they are as healthy as possible when the playoffs start. Chris Paul returned on Thursday night, and Cameron Johnson will be returning soon. That’s probably as good as it gets (no Frank or Dario, most likely).

The preferred starting lineup has less than half the season together. Thursday’s game marked just 33 of a possible 74 games so far with Paul, Booker, Bridges, Crowder and Ayton together at the opening tip. That group made the Finals last year and went on an 18-game win streak earlier this season before COVID/injuries hit, so having them healthy is huge.

Next Up

The Suns now have two days off before hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon on ABC. A win on Sunday would tie the second-best win total ever (61) with the 2006-07 team.