One could focus on the Phoenix Suns’ 20-of-40 mark from 3-point distance, a franchise-playoff-record that arrived in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Or one could focus on Booker’s second-half outburst, when he hit five 3s and scored 21 points to answer seemingly every Milwaukee Bucks surge.
But a sequence in the final minute of the first half — the Suns passed the ball 10 times in a shining example of their “0.5” system, before Deandre Ayton finished an And-1 layup — is what made Booker and teammate Mikal Bridges downright giddy following a 118-108 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
“(Bridges) was like, ‘I think that was the most pumped I've ever been after a play,' and I was like, ‘Me, too. Same here,’” Booker said. “So, when you're playing like that, it's fun. It's fun. Everybody's touching it. You feel the energy of the ball.
“When you get it, you want to make a play for somebody else and something opens up always when it's popping and moving like that.”
The Suns used that sharp ball movement and timely shot-making to build a 15-point lead and counter a sublime night from the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists).
When Milwaukee cut the Suns’ lead to 93-88 with 8:45 to play, Deandre Ayton responded with a finish at the rim before Booker hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push that advantage back to 13 points. When that lead dwindled to 103-97 about three minutes later, Paul hit a corner 3 and Bridges followed with a shot off the glass to get the cushion back to double digits.
Yet coach Monty Williams also credited Phoenix’s second-quarter defense with being a primary difference-maker. The Suns held the Bucks to 16 points, creating the cushion that held after a slow start to the game.
Booker finished with 31 points, six assists and five rebounds. Bridges added 27 points, the most in his young playoff career. Deandre Ayton (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Jae Crowder (11 points, 10 rebounds) both collected double-doubles.
The Finals next shifts to Milwaukee for Sunday’s Game 3.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Monty Williams on his message to the team postgame: “We talked about it being a 0-0 series. That's our mentality. That's what we talked about this morning. We have to approach every game with a level of desperation and we can't look at the series numbers. But human nature forces you to do that, but our mentality is to play every game as if we're coming off of a loss. I think that's served us well throughout the playoffs.”
Devin Booker on Mikal Bridges’ work behind the scenes: “Just every day. You see the type of work. His focus is there every single moment. You get to the gym, Mikal's there and he's putting in extra work. He's there after. So, you know people will still try to label him as a 3-and-D guy, and I've told you guys multiple times that's not even close to his game.”
Jae Crowder on Devin Booker not running away from the moment: “I wouldn't be here if he did. I wouldn't want to play with a guy who runs from the moment. I think he does a great job of seizing the opportunity. I knew playing against him what type of competitor he was, previously before joining him as a teammate. So no, to answer that question, he's not going to run from any fight, battle, situation that the basketball court. So, he's a hell of a player, he's a hell of a competitor and I'm glad to be a part of playing alongside him at this time of the year.”
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Devin Booker: 31 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
Chris Paul: 23 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal
Mikal Bridges: 27 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Deandre Ayton: 10 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks
Jae Crowder: 11 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Cam Johnson: 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
“Locked in” is a popular phrase used across sports at all levels to describe being singularly focused on the immediate task at hand. After a grueling 72-game regular season and three thrilling playoff series, it has never been more important for these Suns to exercise that mental approach. They will open the NBA Finals Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, embarking on their last stretch toward the ultimate summit.
The Suns are locked in on a formidable opponent. They are locked in on maintaining their style of play and everyday habits that got them this far. They are locked in on seizing four more wins, and clinching the first NBA title in franchise history.
After the lengthy officials’ review, the crowd’s roar upon confirmation that his finish was legal and the endless hugs from teammates and coaches, Ayton emphatically agreed when asked if that was the best play of his life. The “Valley-oop” to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 104-103 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals is already an iconic moment in Phoenix Suns history.
It was also the latest reminder that Ayton’s consistent — and often dominant — play unfolding bit-by-bit during this electrifying postseason run has rapidly vaulted him into the conversation surrounding the NBA’s top-tier centers.
Johnson and Bridges are now known as “The Twins,” a nickname coined by Deandre Ayton because they are always around each other and play a similar position and style. After forming their initial bond heading into the 2019-20 season, Johnson’s and Bridges’ relationship flows from the locker room onto the court and epitomizes the Suns’ necessary trust, togetherness and overall synergy that has led them to the Western Conference Finals.
On June 20, 2019, Jones helped launch the construction of the Suns’ roster now up 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals. And on June 20, 2021, Jones was named NBA Executive of the Year. What a difference two years can make.
It takes talent, relentless drive and togetherness to become one of the NBA’s final four teams remaining in the postseason. But the Suns’ ability to reach this level of consistent, confident and clinical execution, particularly while winning a franchise-record seven consecutive playoff games, can be directly tied to their willingness to embrace the belief that everything counts. That attention to detail becomes even more critical with an NBA Finals berth on the line when Phoenix’s series against the Los Angeles Clippers begins Sunday afternoon, especially with Paul missing at least Game 1 while in health and safety protocols.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Craig is a versatile defender and willing rebounder on both ends. He will dive for 50/50 balls and flash his athleticism via deflections and blocks. He has gotten more offensive opportunities with the Suns as an outside shooter and authoritative finisher off cuts and in transition. Now, Craig is showcasing all of those attributes during a playoff series against his former team while providing a jolt to the Suns’ championship aspirations.
‘THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT’
That electric crowd is goosebumps-inducing in person and takes television viewers aback, prompting local pride and national attention. It has been praised by young Suns experiencing the postseason for the first time and veterans who have been through countless playoff games alike. That’s why it’s reasonable to wonder if — or conclude that — the Suns have quickly created the NBA’s best home-court advantage during these playoffs.
The formal definition of the word “relentless” is “oppressively constant; incessant.” That descriptor has followed the Suns throughout this season, applying to their on-court style of play and their everyday habits while navigating this unique season. Knocking off the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs’ first round required a relentless approach, which now carries the Suns into the Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets.
“It’s just how the guys are built, individually and as a collective group,” Booker said. “If you go down the list of all the players, there’s nobody that’s scared of the moment. There’s nobody that hasn’t prepared for this moment. This isn’t new. This is how we’ve been playing for most of the season. We’ve had ups and downs, but we’re a confident team and we play hard all the way through.”
Now in his third season as general manager of the Phoenix Suns, James Jones has taken his knowledge of what it takes to win a ring and is building a roster of like-minded players with high-IQs, unselfish personalities and relentless attitudes both on the court and behind the scenes. The result is Phoenix’s dramatic rise over the past two seasons. The Suns went 51-21 during the 2020-21 regular season, finished second in a loaded Western Conference and enters Tuesday with the opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Cameron Payne plays with a fiery passion that somehow looks both free and furious, prompting some to compare him to the “haboob” dust storms that disrupt the Valley air during the summer monsoon season. It’s a fitting style for Payne, a former lottery draft pick who had his NBA career stripped away in early 2019 and is now savoring his shot on a Suns team with championship aspirations.
“To be on the road and have your fans cheering for you, especially when you make a run, is pretty cool," head coach Monty Williams said. "We’re thankful, grateful and we’re fighting our tails off to make those fans that we have in this environment have something to cheer for.”
Whether traveling from Phoenix or different parts of California, Suns.com gathered personal stories from six Suns fans making the trip and cheer on their favorite team.
LIVING UP TO THE MOMENT
Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson showed consistent effort all season, preparing them for the bright lights. They lived up to the moment in Game 1 and, in some cases, churned out historic stat lines — even during an intense game complete with the magnitude of the franchise’s first playoff game since 2010, a jarring injury to their Hall of Fame point guard and a scuffle that resulted in a teammate being ejected.
There are enough “Montyisms” for Monty Williams to write a compilation book — which Devin Booker has publicly and privately suggested to his coach. Even while repeating them to players, Cam Johnson said, Williams will preface by acknowledging some might call them “corny” or “goofy” or “coach speak.” Yet Johnson says those mantras are “big-time anchors” that have kept the Suns emotionally centered during the franchise’s emphatic rise to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. They create personal connections with players by instilling belief and relaying constructive advice. They provide reminders that resurface in the head and heart when one least expects it, and can apply to both basketball and life.
RALLY THE VALLEY
Suns.com gathered personal stories from 13 people connected to the organization. Some are longtime fans, and others are long-time employees in behind-the-scenes roles. Some are community partners who work with the Suns to make residents’ lives a little brighter. Some are natives, and some have returned home.
“You look around the league at some teams, and not everybody has a vibe like this or an energy like this throughout,” Booker said. “I always say it’s a great environment to get better in. When you have everybody supporting you, everybody being honest with you — those are the same people that can give me constructive criticism at any point in the game, and I’m listening to them — that’s the name of our group, man.”
Culture, chemistry and overall spirit are intangible qualities that cannot be measured by traditional stats or advanced analytics. But players and coaches know it — feel it — when those attributes have manifested within a team.