Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the Phoenix Suns Masterclass on Dominance in Turning Moments

Within hours of the trade that sent him to the Phoenix Suns in November 2020, Chris Paul had flown to Phoenix to meet up with Devin Booker and train in a private gym on a borrowed estate.

It was the off-season, but both men were in a hurry, eager to take root in something new. At 35, Paul knew he was running out of opportunities, with the scars of past star matchmaking failures marring his résumé. Booker was beyond impatient, having stated that he had ended up missing the playoffs in 2019 only to see another losing season the following year playing for his fifth head coach.

It’s only been 12 months since that meeting, but Paul and Booker seem to have racked up years of chemistry building. That compression is more evident in clutch situations; that delicate moment where experience is so valuable and where this star couple has already become a piece of watchmaking.

Dominance in decisive situations is fueling the Suns’ tremendous start to this season, which culminated with a 16-game winning streak when they face a major test Tuesday against the 18-2 Golden State Warriors.

“Over the past year, we’ve learned a lot from each other,” Booker said. “Obviously, experience is the best teacher.”

In games they have been in clutch situations, when the score is within five points in the last five minutes of the game or in overtime, the Suns have been sensational.

They are 8-1 in those games this season. They are doing it primarily with remarkable execution from Booker and Paul, who have comfortably handled themselves in roles as old friends.

Booker has been prodigious in the decisive moments, shooting 73% from the field and 60% from 3-point range. Paul is right there with him, shooting 67% while playing almost flawlessly with a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnovers ratio and shooting 94% on free throws at key moments.

Looking at these situations, the trust between the players is evident. Although his close wins have come about in different ways during the winning streak, the routine is that Paul knows where Booker and other teammates are comfortable and delivers the ball. And when Paul enters a matchup where he feels there is an advantage, the other four players sense it and give him room to operate.

Suns coach Monty Williams had decided to let Booker and Paul go while he instructed the other three players on the court, usually Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder, where to be to optimize the two stars. Williams and his coaching staff have studied how to create situations that allow them to inspect the floor.

“I just try to stay out of their way and simplify it for the other guys around them; I feel like that’s more my job than trying to choreograph everything for those guys,” Williams said. “They have been key players all their lives.”

Paul has a decorated history of leading his teams in close victories. In his only season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019-20, Paul was probably the league’s best decisive player in the regular season, leading the Thunder to 29 wins in those games. He threw 52% in the clutch that season and helped his backline teammates Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who shot 59%, and Dennis Schroder, who shot 51%, each have fantastic performances playing alongside him. like Booker does now.

The Suns have benefited from their core core spending a lot of time together. They had the fewest games lost due to injuries last season, and their long playoff run helped. In addition, they played a large number of close matches in that span.

Last season, the Suns were 24-12 in games that reached clutch status, then played eight more in the playoffs, going 4-4 ​​during their run to the Finals. All that replay in a short window has sped up the team’s collective key time experience.

Booker had a staggering pair of playoff performances with the chips down, scoring 47 points in a closing game on the road at the Los Angeles Lakers and 34 in a closing game at the Denver Nuggets, before consecutive 40-point efforts in the Los Angeles Lakers. Finals.

“Last year during]our playoff career, we learned a lot from each other and a lot about our team,” Booker said. “Finding ways to win is what we always talk about.”
Booker and Paul combined for 16 points in the fourth quarter in a decisive-time win over the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 6. In the clutch against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 8, it was Paul’s airlift to JaVale McGee and his timely free throws. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 15, it was two decisive jump shots from Booker and free throws from Paul that sealed the game. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, Paul threw a balloon at Bridges, hit his signature 16-foot shot and then made six free throws, all in the final two minutes.

“We have a great group, a great dressing room. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Paul said. “It’s about responsibility. If you’re not doing the right thing, it’s going to show. Coach calls him a pinkie showing up at a thumb convention.”

“It’s a convention of the middle finger,” Booker corrected.

As Williams added, “The responsibility in the locker room is at a high level. Last year, someone might say something to someone and they might take it personally. This year, we don’t have a lot of that at all.”

The Suns have benefited from one of the smoothest schedules in the league to date and a few other breaks. For example: the Dallas Mavericks came to town for a two-game series, and star Luka Doncic missed both.

This is because his playoff career was downplayed by some last season due to injuries to key opponents Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard. But Tuesday’s showdown features the first of three games between now and Christmas with the equally hot Warriors and a chance for the Suns to test their momentum late in the game. The Suns have rarely shown anything other than a fully entrepreneurial attitude during the hot streak.

“We keep our composure, never panic,” Booker said. “It’s chemistry. It’s team basketball. It’s fun to be a part of this.”