Devin Booker smiled widely after the challenge was successful.
The Phoenix Suns’ star guard raised his finger and spun it in the air, pleading his coach Monty Williams to dispute a foul whistled on him for contesting a layup from Los Angeles Clippers guard Bones Hyland. Phoenix won, allowing it to retain a timeout while ahead 105-92 with 9:03 left.
It was one of several victories on the night for Booker, who cruised through the Clippers’ defense to the tune of 45 points, his fifth 40-point postseason game of his career, in the Suns’ 129-124 win over Los Angeles Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena.
Phoenix took a 2-1 series lead against the Clippers, who were without superstar forward Kawhi Leonard but still offered a tremendous performance.
Much was made of the Suns’ 2022 postseason run, when they followed a franchise-best 64 wins during the regular season and crashed with a disastrous 33-point home loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their semifinal series. Unfortunately for Booker, he was dragged into criticism even though he may have not deserved it individually.
Expectations rose for the Suns’ guard this offseason, as he was tasked with carrying the franchise out of a controversial summer in which former owner Robert Sarver was deemed guilty in an NBA investigation into allegations of racism and misogyny. Phoenix was still a championship contender but relied on the face of its franchise to push it to positive times.
Booker averaged a career- and franchise-best 27.8 points this season. His play in the postseason has only risen, as he has scored 26, 38 and now 45 points against the Clippers this series.
Booker now joins Charles Barkley as the only Suns players to have five postseason games with 40-plus points. He is also the leading scorer in the postseason at 36.3 points per game.
Devin Booker this playoffs:— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 21, 2023
— 1st in points per game
— 2nd in stocks per game
Doing it on both ends of the floor. pic.twitter.com/Wyz0W6x2yQ
Best defenders on 40+ DFGA this playoffs:— Booker Muse (@DevinBookerMuse) April 20, 2023
23.8% — Devin Booker
35.0% — Derrick White
37.2% — Evan Mobley
40.8% — Kevon Looney
50.0% — Nikola Jokic
52.4% — Brook Lopez
53.6% — Ivica Zubac
Book has been SENSATIONAL. pic.twitter.com/IkDh65wN1N
After a disastrous first four seasons with the Suns, Booker has finally gotten some help. Phoenix now has a star-studded team with its addition of Kevin Durant, who is arguably still the best player in the world.
Durant’s presence has helped Booker, who now has five 35-plus point games in 11 games with Durant as teammate. It even makes the Clippers’ multiple defenses, which have slowed the Suns to some extent, seem helpless.
Booker wowed the Los Angeles crowd in two series against their teams, the Lakers and Clippers, two postseasons ago and did so again Thursday. He got to the rim, pulled back for his jump shot and was pure up through the final minute, which included an acrobatic floater plus a foul that gave the Suns what they needed to pull away for their win.
Devin Booker likely seals it. pic.twitter.com/5qJkFYtUF2— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) April 21, 2023
Incredibly, Booker made 15-of-22 shots inside the paint. He bullied Los Angeles’ small-ball lineup with layups at the rim and could not be stopped in the second half.
Booker has arguably been a top-five player in the NBA himself since the Feb. 10, when he returned from a groin injury suffered in the Suns’ Christmas game against the Denver Nuggets. He averaged 29.0 points on 51.9 percent shooting with 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds in his last 23 games played during the regular season.
Williams has trusted his player enough to take over in the last two games. Booker had 18 of his 38 points in Game 2 in the third quarter, which may have saved the Suns’ season after they trailed by 13 in the first half.
Thursday, Booker may have done enough to put the Suns in full control to win this series, assuming Leonard and forward Paul George do not return.
Stay tuned to Bright Side of the Sun for more coverage from the Suns’ Game 3 win.