Photo: Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports
Devin Booker faced the late Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on March 24, 2016. It was his first and last meeting against one of the best players that ever played in the NBA. It was a dream for him to get this opportunity.
Then-19-year-old Booker made an impression on Bryant that night in the Suns’ 119-107 victory over the Lakers. It was not the 28 points that impressed him. It was how fearless he was in making his shots. He certainly had the Mamba mentality that made Bryant so good. After the game, the once Lakers star told the then-Suns rookie to be legendary.
After the first five years of missing the playoffs due to the Suns going through a rebuilding project, Booker finally had a chance to play in the playoffs this season. He certainly has been legendary this postseason by averaging 27 points on 44 percent shooting and 32.7 percent three-point shooters.
Bryant would definitely be proud of him.
Booker is two wins away from being an NBA champion after the Suns’ 118-109 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night at Phoenix Suns arena.
The Suns star played a role in this win by leading the team with 31 points on 12-of-25 shooting, including 7 3-pointers. Whenever the Bucks were within striking distance of tying the game, Booker would shoot a jumper or a 3 to give the Suns a much-needed breathing room.
Even when the Bucks started off with a 14-9 lead to start the game, Booker’s 3-pointer made it a two-point game. When the Bucks took a 24-20 lead, Booker’s 3-pointer made it a one-point game.
When the Bucks tied the game at 41, Booker started the Suns’ 7-0 run by shooting a jumper. The Suns would enter halftime with a 56-45 lead.
When the Bucks cut the Suns’ lead to 71-66 after falling behind 63-48 in the third quarter, Booker assisted on Chris Paul’s 3 and he followed it up by hitting a jumper. He hit another 3-pointer after Pat Connaughton’s 3 to give the Suns a 79-69 lead.
With the Bucks making it a five-point game at 93-88 with 8:45 to go, Booker delivered the dagger by shooting (you guessed it) a 3 after Deandre Ayton’s layup to give the Suns a 98-88 lead. This was as close as the Bucks would ever get.
If the Bucks were being honest, they knew they had no shot with the way Booker was shooting. No matter how close the Bucks would get, Booker would come up with an answer. This is why as close as the Bucks made it out to be, you got the impression they could never take the lead with the way Booker was playing.
This is another problem the Bucks have. They can be competitive, but that can only get them so far. If the Suns get great performances from Mikal Bridges, Paul, Booker and Ayton, there’s nothing the Bucks can do. In Game 1, the Suns featured six players in double figures. In Game 2, they featured five players in double figures. If Booker keeps leading the way, the Bucks can’t do anything about it.
Booker shot so well that one couldn’t help but be in awe. I could only wonder how he did that. You can’t teach what he is doing. Sure a player can practice taking so many shots in the gym, but if it was that simple, Ben Simmons would be a great shooter by now since he tends to work on his shooting in practice to no success once the game starts.
The sixth-year Sun caught everyone’s eye on March 24, 2017, when he scored 70 points against the Celtics despite the Suns’ 130-120 loss. Yes, then-Suns coach Earl Watson decided to feed him the ball despite this game being out of reach. Still, 70 is 70. One has to be special to score at that number.
Booker continued to keep improving going back to last season when he engineered a Suns’ 8-0 playoff bubble that almost had them making the playoffs. It was right there when the Suns decided they needed to make an offseason move to make sure he would experience playoffs for the first time of his career. They did not want to waste any more of his career being that he could leave them as a free agent one day. Once they acquired Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the rest was history.
Booker likely will continue to get more playoff appearances with Paul in the next few years.
By then, the Suns could get a star that wants to play with Booker of his own volition, especially if he keeps putting on a performance as he did in Game 2.