Bickley: Suns Devin Booker series win vs. Clippers show killer instinct

Bickley: Suns Devin Booker series win vs.  Clippers show killer instinct

PHOENIX – The best parties never start on time. This was no different.

This one was 16 years in the making.

For the first time since May 2007, the Suns won a playoff series in Phoenix. They went nuclear in the third period of a closeout game, morphing from an inept crew into a deadly weapon. They scored 50 points and nearly blew the roof off the Footprint Center.

Then they nearly blew the game, losing a 20-point lead.

Yes, weird party.

But when it was over, the Suns successfully put a wounded opponent in their rearview mirror. They shared the basketball court with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker for their 12th win.

Twelve more, and they’re NBA champions.

“Just competing at a higher level,” Booker said. “Iron sharpens iron.”

As always, this game was mostly about Booker, the catalyst, the killer and the rising superstar atoning for his unpopular exit from last year’s postseason. He individually scored 25 points in the third quarter to lead the Clippers. He finished with an astonishing stat line: 47 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

“It was spiritual,” Durant said of Booker’s performance.

There are obvious problems with the sun. Their defense can be atrocious, and their rebounding isn’t much better. They allowed the Clippers to score 40 points in the second quarter with two of their superstars in street clothes. Phoenix’s bench is thin and its loyalty to Landry Shamet is surprising. Its most important players are still logging dangerous minutes.

But Booker would not be denied. He is playing at a height where most players cannot breathe or function properly. That will certainly come in handy in the second-round series against the top-seeded Nuggets.

“He’s trained and waited for moments like this,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “I’m happy to have him by my side.”

Meanwhile, Durant added 31 points on Tuesday, continuing the historic production of the Suns’ two superstars.

“I think in certain environments the ability to put the ball in the hole (separates them),” Williams said. “Once you get to Games 3, 4 and 5 in any series, your play calls are not going to be as effective. When you can throw the ball to two guys, and sometimes three guys, who can go and get buckets, that’s playoff basketball.”

While Durant has been a clutch playoff performer for some time now, several things stand out about Booker. He is now an elite defender. He’s in great physical conditioning, he doesn’t look like the player he was in Phoenix eight years ago. He has the experience that allows him to read the game at its highest level, and the explosiveness to go anywhere on the basketball court. And there is one other significant development:

At the end of the Game 1 loss, Booker was blocked at the rim by Russell Westbrook. As he began to complain to the official, Westbrook knocked the ball away from an unsuspecting Booker and secured the victory. It could be a watershed moment in the arc of the player and the franchise.

Days later, Booker admitted that he and Chris Paul needed to hold each other accountable and stop fixating on authenticity. That would be an understatement. And while Booker received a technical foul on Tuesday, his playoff disposition and focus have improved significantly.

He no longer hunts for fouls, is meticulous on every drive, throws himself to the floor after a jump shot. In the process, he is now crossing the final frontier.

If Booker is developing that level of control and emotional maturity, Parade can’t be far behind. And that celebration will look very different from the party thrown by Sun on Tuesday.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley and Marotta weekdays from 6am to 10am on the 98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station.

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