Just before Devin Booker got up to end his media availability after Monday’s game, he had one more thing to say. As he is used to, he first had to call for the ball.
Somebody off-screen turned it over and when Booker caught it, he released a megawatt grin.
“Yessir, here it is, all of you!” he said, tucking the ball under his arm. “It goes for a million on Ebay!”
The ball belonged to Chris Paul, given to him in the locker room after the Phoenix Suns’ 128-127 win over the Milwaukee Bucks for overtaking icon Magic Johnson in fifth on the list of all-time assistants. Booker, who was assisting with a dunk at the other end of the milestone, then returned the ball to Paul. And Paul said he had in mind somewhere that he wanted to send it.
“The first thing I’ll do is send this ball to Magic and see if he signs it for me,” Paul said.
It was a night of celebration and reflection for the suns, with Paul’s personal success underscoring one of the team’s greatest nights together of the season. The win in Milwaukee was not only one of the best games of the NBA season, but also an endorsement that young, up-and-coming teams crave.
“It was all the playoffs are,” said coach Monty Williams. “Emotion. Physical. Players play. Late game situations. That was all. The resilience and relentless demeanor we showed in extra time on the street says a lot about the character of the guys in our locker from Zimmer.”
The Suns rocked the bladder with their 8-0 run in Orlando last summer and thus set the table for a promising season to come. There was a renewed culture under Williams with an emphasis on development, detail, and defense. Suddenly the suns had some expectations.
Then they added Paul.
“I don’t have enough time to talk about everything he’s done,” said Williams. “He brought something like that – he improved the winning mentality. All of our boys want to win. But when you see a man who did it from a distance, you look at how he does it, from his diet to his exercise routine He has every day and then in the game when he’s able to be in situations like this and really raise the level of our team, it’s pretty cool to see. “
The bubble darling stuff is over, however. You get the feeling that the suns are tired of talking about it. You had a nice run last summer. They were good then. They think they can be great now.
“Yeah,” Booker said bluntly when asked if he’d imagined this after Phoenix added Paul. “Straight up.”
Paul has a long track record in leadership. His skills go beyond the ground with his cerebral approach to the game and his ability to communicate with teammates and enforce accountability. These things are known. But he had to recapture his reputation with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, which unlikely resulted in a 5-seed in the west, and when the Thunder was ready to embark on a rebuild, Paul identified the Suns as the next team to that he could set up.
“I could sit here all day telling you story after story,” Williams said of Paul’s influence. “He’s definitely helping me as a coach. Our in-game conversations allow us to play some games that we probably couldn’t do if I didn’t have that synergy with him.”
Paul is the steady slap on the suns, the metronome ticking to keep consistency. Young teams can ride the wave of a season or even a game and get upset about lost streaks, dramas, or deficits. Paul is rarely unsettled and is the weighted blanket for every stress point. Whether it’s a calming midfielder stopping a run, pulling a foul to contain the momentum, or pulling Booker aside for a quick mentorship like he did on Monday after Khris Middleton gave him a late one 3 drilled in the face, Paul is looking for his places.
Chris Paul dines to Devin Booker to overtake Magic Johnson for the fifth time on the assists list and gives Jae Crowder a ridiculous penny for a 3-pointer.
“Pay attention to the details. Get the game right. See the little things and just think ahead,” said Deandre Ayton of the Suns. “Don’t think like a normal basketball player, but think ahead and know what tendencies the teams have and how we can improve, how we can otherwise optimize an attack or a defense.
“He really brings out the best in people,” said Ayton. “He wants the best for you and he’ll talk to you, teach you. And it’s all about how much of a player you have to buy to help the team.”
It’s moments like Paul Happening to Magic that bring home the awe and respect he commands in the young Phoenix dressing room. He’s waiting for a Hall of Famer and every player on the team knows it. That kind of intangible impact is kind of a role model that just comes with a list of career achievements like the one Paul put together.
“I’m inspired every day. I tell Chris this every day. It’s not something I take for granted,” said Booker. “I choose his brain. I listen to him carefully. I watch him move, and even when he doesn’t speak or guide us, I’m just watching him do his business. There is so much respect for him and not just for me.” , but league-wide and worldwide. “
Ayton said: “The man has proven he is the ‘point god’ every time. Breaking milestones and the like, awards, it’s an honor to be a part of it. I got him up after he got the cue ball has, and all of us. ” partied and I said, “I appreciate you man. I’m really honored to be a part of this, this is insane.”
“It’s a different thing to win games, but when you actually see the steps you want to add or the kind of respect you want in the league that you are with that person every day It’s a different feeling. You want to play you harder. Because that person is doing the same thing you do every day to keep track of things and help the team win and do all they can. “
In January, after the Suns lost three times in a row to drop to 500, there was frustration in the locker room. Paul didn’t say that the team wasn’t good enough, but that they weren’t playing well enough. But the message was clear: he expected more from them. And he would do anything to get it out.
Now, nearly three months later, the Suns 1½ games are back from Utah Jazz for the top seed in the west, beating a title contender on the street in a high-level back and forth game.
It’s hard to take statement wins, especially in this weird 72-game season, but for a team like the Suns, every win over a competing colleague serves as a certain kind of confirmation. Bubble Cinderella’s abrupt leap to an obvious title contender leaves many doubters behind. There is always a hint of “The suns are a beautiful story, but …” around them.
“I knew that about our team, but how should I put it,” said Williams, “it’s just good to see how it plays out in front of everyone else.”
Towards the end of his media coverage on Monday, Paul was asked about Ayton’s solid defense efforts against Giannis Antetokounmpo, and while praising the young center, mentioned the unique game plan the Suns had to put in place for the Greek freak. But there was a casual line he added, maybe unconsciously, maybe accidentally, or maybe deliberately.
“These games here, we’re in the west, they’re in the east,” Paul said casually. “The only time we could see her again was the final.”