Making his first appearance on the court since last week’s Game 2, Booker started the game cold, finishing the first half with just 2 points and shooting 0-3 from beyond the arc.
The second half began with Booker coming off the bench, re-entering the game about midway through the quarter. Booker missed two more three-pointers by the end of the third, but in his 20 minutes of play, Booker showed no signs of being hampered by his hamstring.
Thus, Suns’ coach Monty Williams gave him the green light in fourth, playing him the whole 12 minutes and giving Booker the time he needed to find his groove.
Booker made good on William’s decision, scoring seven points in the quarter and converting his only three of the night, a crucial quick-trigger bomb that gave the Suns a two-point lead with 1:42 left to go in the game.
While Booker’s performance of 13 points on 5-12 from the field and 1-6 from downtown seems pedestrian by his standards, Booker’s ability to walk right back into this highly-contested playoff series and play over 32 minutes was immensely encouraging.
The Suns’ All-Star guard went out during the third quarter of Game 2 with a right hamstring strain. While the team had not publicly given a timetable for Booker’s return, the initial reporting of his injury led to the idea that he would not be seen again during this first-round series.
But as BrightSide’s own Damon Allred shared yesterday, signs of Booker’s return began Tuesday night after their Game 5 victory at home, only to be all but confirmed on Wednesday by the prophet himself, FLEX From Jersey:
Breaking News:— FLEX From Jersey (@FlexFromJersey) April 27, 2022
Assuming nothing unexpected happens between now and tipoff tomorrow I can confidently say that after roughly 9 days out with a Mild Hamstring Strain I fully expect Devin Booker to return to the Suns lineup for Thursday's potential closeout game 6 in New Orleans. pic.twitter.com/e59XcdGmdF
After the game, Williams clarified that Booker coming off the bench in the second half was very much by design.
“I thought we were gonna have a fistfight over there [with] the look [Booker] gave me,” Williams said semi-jokingly. “We had already talked about it, but we had to stick to the plan because it was going to be easier to finish [the game] with him and keep his minutes relatively lower.”
Williams elaborated further on what he saw from Booker that gave him the confidence necessary to leave Booker out there in the fourth quarter.
“I played [Booker] about eight more minutes than I wanted to,” Williams said. “We wanted to keep at about 24, but I was just watching him and he didn’t look like he was dragging [his leg] or laboring at all... and he told me, he said ‘Coach, I feel fine, it’s strong, I have no issues’, so I left him out there.”
Booker spoke afterward about how he prepared for this return mentally and physically.
“Really just making sure my body was ready,” Booker said. “I was confident in it, I tested it, got some good work in yesterday and I knew the adrenaline was gonna kick in and it was time to go.”
“This was a big game for us. Now we just sit back and wait to see what happens in this Utah-Dallas game.”
As the night unfolded, Booker’s words rang even truer and truer, as the Mavericks closed out the Jazz in dramatic fashion, setting up a Suns-Mavs matchup in the second round that has every basketball fan around the world salivating. Booker and the Suns will have three full days off to rest before the series begins in Phoenix for Game 1, a luxury they would not have had if Game 6 against the Pelicans had gone differently.
Only time will tell whether or not Devin Booker will be fully fit and at peak condition by tip-off on Monday. But as far as the Suns are concerned, they’re just happy to have their All-Star back.
“It was good to have [Devin] back,” Suns’ forward Jae Crowder said after the game. “Obviously he has been working his butt off to get back [to] playing level, it was great to have him out there. Just his presence alone is great for our team. Whether he is 70% or 100%, I think it’s beneficial for us to have him out there.”
“[Devin] knows what’s ahead of us, and he’s gonna take care of his body, and be ready for the next series.”