Phoenix—With the stamina to outlast rivals and the determination to keep attacking, Phoenix guard Devin Booker has sparked the Suns to within two wins of an NBA title.
The 24-year-old son of a 1990s NBA journeyman scored 31 points, grabbed five rebounds and passed off six assists over a game-high 44 minutes to lead Phoenix over Milwaukee 118-108 in Thursday’s game two of the NBA Finals.
“I’m excited every day I get to wake up and play in the NBA,” Booker said. “I try not to lose sight of that.”
After starting 2-of-10, Booker finished shooting 12-of-25 for the game, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
“Just slowed it down a bit,” Booker said. “Early in the game just amped, excited and shooting a few things long, rushing a few shots. So just getting back to fundamentals.”
He nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to thwart a rally bid by the Bucks in the fourth quarter.
“Devin wants to prove to everybody he’s one of the best players in the league,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Not just from a stats-numbers perspective. He wants to prove it by winning and being competitive.
“He wants to separate himself from everyone else to not only put up stats but to show that he can lead a team to win, and he’s getting the chance to do it on the big stage.”
The Suns lead the Bucks 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship showdown with games three and four in Milwaukee on Sunday and Wednesday.
“We’ve seen a lot of different situations and coverages. We feel like we’ve seen it all,” Booker said.
“We’re prepared for this moment. Milwaukee is going to make it tough on us but we’re prepared as a team.”
Williams has trouble getting Booker to exit the game for a brief rest.
“I get the look when I even ask him about it,” Williams said. “It’s like insulting to him when I ask him about his stamina.”
Booker credits the work he puts in building endurance, saying, “Just preparation, taking care of your body. There’s a whole list of it. But I think the adrenaline… trying to get after it. So, I don’t feel tired.”
Together with backcourt partner Chris Paul, in his first NBA Finals at age 36, they have produced the most points of any guard duo to start a finals. Paul knows why Booker hates being sidelined even for a breather.
“He has trained and worked his whole life for these moments,” Paul said. “He just stays in attack mode all game long. And that’s what I love about him.
“He puts the work in. That’s what a lot of people don’t see. You see the games, you don’t see all the shots after practice and all this different type stuff. He’s built for it.”
‘He’s not going to run’
There’s no worry when Booker’s shots aren’t going on, just a confidence the next ones will.
“If Book shoots it, I expect it to go in. I get mad at him when he don’t shoot,” Paul said. “Me and him together, we’ve just built so much trust. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to help our team win and it’s nice.”
It comes from a toughness and confidence teammate Jae Crowder has watched Booker build.
“He’s our go-to player. We know he can make plays for himself and for others so we just try to get him in some good situations and he did a great job,” Crowder said.
“He’s a hell of a player. He’s a hell of a competitor. He’s not going to run from any fight, battle, situation that the basketball court presents.”