From a basketball perspective, being truly present has a more pronounced effect than simply being there.
The latter is more of a physical presence, whereas the former speaks volumes of the value one brings to the table and less of being present in its most literal sense. Every step is deliberate and each approach is calculated, to the point that no stone is left unturned.
Devin Booker sat out three games in the first round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, and while he returned and scored 13 points in the series-clinching Game 6, the real Devin Booker made his comeback in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks.
The former Kentucky Wildcat showed little to no signs of the Grade 1 left hamstring strain that kept him on the sidelines. From crafty drives to the basket to hitting tough fadeaway jump shots (and landing on his left leg no less), Booker has had to create space with finesse and the valiant efforts of the Mavs on defense were no match for the great offense they faced in Game 1.
Booker’s effort and energy was a major boost to the Phoenix Suns in their 121-114 win and Deandre Ayton was the biggest beneficiary. Ayton scored a team-high 25 points and was on the end of some of Booker’s game-high eight assists. The activity that the three-time All-Star generated overall allowed Ayton and five other players to score at least nine points on at least 44.44 percent field goal shooting.
More than the points he contributed in Game 1, Booker’s presence is a major boost to his teammates and their respective on court production. Booker has always been a willing passer and the fact that he and Paul can initiate the offense gives the Suns a multi-faceted attack. Despite coming off an injury, it was great to see the 25-year old fight for offensive rebounds and not give up on the play. Seeing that from your franchise player should only inspire the rest of Phoenix to keep the same energy.
To say that Booker made his return at the right time is perhaps a debate for another day, but having him now would certainly get the rust out of the way. His game is unlike that of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which requires a lot of physical force, but the timing and the ability to change direction and draw pump fakes requires a level of physical exertion that an injured hamstring could hamper.
Booker’s movements not only come off the dribble, but also when he runs through screens and cuts to the basket. The Suns have made it a point to try to get their perimeter players open and when the 2020 Olympic gold medalist is not running the offense, he is moving around the halfcourt evading defenders. NBA playoff games can at times be more draining than a regular season game and him playing at least 32 minutes means the looming concern is now more on schemes and tactics.
In all likelihood, Dallas will attack Booker defensively in the same way Booker has exploited Luka Doncic on that end. Doncic had a game-high 45 points despite being the focal point of Phoenix’s defensive plans and it only goes to show that he will always get his numbers in this series.
Assigning the lowest offensive threat on the Mavs will likely be one of the remedies, but this can easily be negated when Booker is forcibly switched onto Doncic or Jalen Brunson. It would take a team effort to avoid any major defensive breakdowns, but Booker should make it a goal to stay on his toes.
Devin Booker may have come back at the end of the first round, but he announced his return with authority when the Phoenix Suns opened their Western Conference semifinal series against the Dallas Mavericks. Scoring has always been his calling card, but the little things he does to score and because he scores have also greatly contributed to their strong start.