The late Kobe Bryant once told Devin Booker to be legendary. The Phoenix star is living up to that.
Booker carried his Suns to a 118-108 win over Milwaukee in Game 2 of the NBA Finals — and halfway to the first championship in their title-less 53-year history.
“We had the lead going into the fourth quarter, a 10-point lead. And we wanted to hold that,” Booker said in an on-court TV interview. “We wanted to defend that at all cost.”
They took a 2-0 series lead Thursday night before a raucous sellout crowd of 16,583 fans at Phoenix Suns Arena. And they did it thanks to a sublime 23 points and eight assists from veteran guard Chris Paul, a surprising career-playoff-high 27 from Mikal Bridges, and a super night from Booker.
The rising Suns star poured in a team-high 31 points, six assists and five rebounds in a marathon 44-minute performance.
Booker once got a pair of KOBE XI PEs from Bryant five years ago, and wrote “Be Legendary” on them. Booker actually got a tattoo of the same message and is rapidly living up to that.
“We’re on this pursuit to do what we set out to do, and we are here now,” Booker said. “It’s kind of hard to reflect on what you’re doing when you’re in the moment. Our main focus right now is to win those four basketball games and that’s pretty much it.”
Make that two games now, after the Suns survived a monster 42-point night from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. They held Jrue Holiday to just 7-of-21 shooting and the Bucks to 9-of-31 from deep.
Phoenix turned every defensive stop into either a fastbreak or early offense. And even when they got into the halfcourt, the Suns carved up Milwaukee’s over-helping defense with 26 assists and 20-of-40 shooting from behind the arc.
They turned their pace into a weapon.
“It’s huge,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Before we can get the ball, we got to make sure we box out and limit those guys to one shot. That’s been a huge part of our game plan, and it’s the same for Milwaukee. Chris did a really good job of trying to keep [P.J.] Tucker and [Pat] Connaughton off the glass. Those guys are bulldogs going to the boards. So once we get it, we want to get it down the floor quickly.”
Phoenix fell behind right out of the gate, 21-12 on a Tucker putback with 5:05 left in the first quarter. But the Suns quickly shot their way out of that.
Still trailing 32-28 after Tucker hit Bryn Forbes for a 3-pointer, Phoenix reeled off an 11-3 spurt, capped by a Deandre Ayton dunk to take a four-point edge.
And with the score tied at 41-all, the Suns put together a 15-4 run to seize a lead they never surrendered the rest of the evening. And they closed it with a highlight sequence that perfectly encapsulated their entire night.
A brilliant 10-pass possession started with Paul in transition and ended with Bridges finding Ayton for an and-one with 14.9 seconds left in the half. It sent Phoenix into the locker room with a 56-45 lead that proved more than enough.
Phoenix had been a perfect 12-0 this postseason with double-digit leads. They made it a baker’s dozen after Thursday night.
The cushion got padded to 65-50 in the third quarter on a Bridges dunk, and the Suns held Milwaukee’s inevitable rally at arm’s length.
Antetokounmpo lead a Bucks rally almost single-handedly, pouring in 20 points in the third quarter alone. And when Holiday found Brook Lopez running the floor for a layup, that cut it to 93-88 with 8:45 remaining.
But Antetokounpo subbed out just six seconds later — on the bench, having his shoe taken off — and the Suns pounced at the opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and Milwaukee. An Ayton layup and Booker 3 sandwiched around a missed Holiday layup padded it back to 98-88 and sent Milwaukee into a timeout.
Another Booker 3 stretched it to 13, and it never got close again.