The Phoenix Suns, who were without star guard Chris Paul, rode Devin Booker’s hot hand to a Game One victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs on Sunday night.
After testing positive for Covid-19, Paul was placed in the league’s health and safety protocol and missed the first game of the Western Conference Finals best-of-seven series.
Despite the absence of their “leader,” as Booker refers to him, the Suns were able to secure a crucial home win thanks to Booker’s outstanding performance in front of a boisterous crowd at Phoenix Suns Arena.
He led the Suns to a 120-114 victory over the Clippers, scoring 40 points on 15-of-29 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and 11 assists for his first career triple-double.
Suns head coach Monty Williams praised Booker’s performance as the team’s leader following the game.
“I like the way Devin did it,” Williams told the media. “He didn’t inject himself into the game. He just did it out of what we do.
“There are times where a guy scores and you just want to go grab the ball and jack up a shot. I thought the way Devin did it tonight was within our scheme and what we do.”
Since being drafted by the Suns in 2015, Booker and the team have had some difficult seasons.
Despite the fact that Booker has improved year after year and has been named an NBA All-Star the last two seasons, he has yet to make the playoffs.
That was until Paul came aboard during the offseason.
With a regular season record of 51-21, the 11-time All-Star seemed to act as the glue for an already talented Suns team, helping to lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Despite the fact that many of the players are in their first playoffs, they’ve shown no signs of nervousness, defeating some big names in their first two games, including LeBron James and MVP Nikola Jokic.
When it was revealed that Paul had tested positive for Covid-19 and could miss game time, it appeared that the Suns had suffered a major setback.
Against a Clippers team that was missing its own superstar in Kawhi Leonard, however, Booker stepped up when his team needed him the most.
He exploded after the break, scoring or assisting on 43 of the Suns’ final 50 points, after a relatively quiet first half.
He became the first Suns player to record a triple-double in the playoffs since two-time MVP Steve Nash in 2005.
Following that, Booker and his teammates called Paul to wish him a happy birthday.
“He’s our leader. We lean on him for a lot,” Booker said. “We know how disappointed he is and frustrated he is he couldn’t be out here for Game One of the Western Conference Finals, especially knowing his past history around this time.
“But we had him all the way through. We brought him in the locker room, had him in our after-game huddle. He’s proud of us. He’s ready to get back, he’s working and we can’t wait to have him.”