But even without their “boss” as Booker calls him, the Suns were able to secure a vital home victory, thanks to Booker’s stellar performance in front of a boisterous crowd at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
He scored 40 points on 15 of 29 shots, in addition to 13 rebounds and 11 assists – his first career triple-double – to help the Suns beat the Clippers 120-114 to take a 1-0 lead in their series. .
Suns head coach Monty Williams subsequently praised Booker’s performance as team leader.
“There are times when a guy scores and you just want to go get the ball and throw a shot. I thought the way Devin had done it tonight was part of our plan and what we’re doing.”
Do it for Paul
Since being drafted in 2015 by the Suns, Booker and the team have had to endure tough seasons.
Although Booker himself had improved from year to year – he was named NBA All-Star for the past two seasons – qualifying for the playoffs had remained elusive.
That was until Paul joined the team during the offseason.
The 11-time All-Star appeared to act as the glue of an already talented Suns team, helping them advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 with a regular season record of 51-21.
Although many players are in their first playoffs, they showed no signs of nervousness, beating some big names – including LeBron James and MVP Nikola Jokic – in their first two series.
So when news came out that Paul had tested positive for Covid-19 and could miss playing time, it seemed like a major setback for the Suns.
However, against a Clippers team that lacked its own superstar in Kawhi Leonard, Booker stepped up when his team needed him most.
After a relatively calm first half, he exploded after the break, scoring or assisting on 43 of the Suns’ last 50 points.
He became the first Suns player since two-time MVP Steve Nash in 2005 to record a triple-double in the playoffs.
“But we got him all the way. We took him to the locker room, had him in our post-game squad. He’s proud of us. He’s ready to come back, he works and we can’t wait to have it. “
Elsewhere on Sunday, the Atlanta Hawks qualified for their second Eastern Conference Finals in 50 years after beating the Philadelphia 76ers 103-96 in a decisive seventh game.
After a dramatic playoff series, which included meltdowns and dramatic comebacks, it was Kevin Huerter who carried the Hawks early, ultimately finishing with a high of 27 points.
Talisman Trae Young got hot late in the competition, finishing with 21 points and 10 assists, keeping the 76ers – with Joel Embiid scoring 31 points – at bay.
The Hawks last made the conference finals in 2015. Prior to that, they had not been one step away from the NBA Finals since the 1969-70 season.
They will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, after the Bucks beat the Brooklyn Nets in their streak.
The first game is scheduled for Wednesday in Milwaukee.
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