PHOENIX — Before every game, Devin Booker will be one of the many members of the Phoenix Suns to go through an individual pregame workout on the court. Next time you come to a game, show up an hour early. That’s when he’s out there, perfecting his craft.
For Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls, Booker had it going in his drills.
After he knocked down another 3-pointer in his traditional set for a certain number in a row, Booker picked up the pace. He was moving with a rhythm more like game action, sinking a few more triples. You could feel that intensity as he and assistant coaches Kevin Young and Jarrett Jack went through their usual song and dance, only at a higher tempo.
One from 30 feet ricocheted off the rim a few times in and out and Booker grinned. He calmly made the next one shortly before he was finished.
Sometimes it’s irrelevant to the real deal, not serving as an indicator of bigger things to come on the night. But it’s at least something to note, when you watch a player fill up their mojo meter before the game even gets underway.
“That’s important when you’re drilling,” Booker said of finding that bounce. “When you’re out there drilling, I’m imagining myself in the game and I’m imagining myself in the moment.”
The bad man was in the building from the jump.
Booker scored a season-high 51 points on 20-of-25 shooting in 31 minutes and three quarters of a 132-113 win over the Bulls.
“It just felt like a double-sized rim out there,” Booker said. “If I rise up, it’s going in.”
The beauty inside Booker’s 50 burger is that it wouldn’t have been possible without him developing into the playmaker he’s become.
The Bulls started the game blitzing Booker to force him off the ball. He and his teammates broke it down consistently. Booker didn’t even score until six minutes in.
Once Chicago tweaked its gameplan and allowed him more space, that served as Booker’s proverbial blood in the water to pounce.
He dropped 16 points in the second quarter to end up with 25 at the half.
It was an incredible performance, but when Booker drilled his first two 3s of the third quarter, that is when the clarity poured in on something special happening.
Booker made 10 of his 11 shots in the 12 minutes for 26 points. It is the sixth time in the last 25 years that a Sun has recorded 25 or more points in a quarter, and four of them are now Booker, per Stathead.
He went two minutes without scoring before a four-point play with 2:13 to go got him to 46.
Booker came down the next trip and waited for a ball screen coverage to pass so he could isolate, and then he hit the rise and fired for 49. After a 3-pointer on the next possession got called back due to an offensive foul on the screen, he did it himself to reach 51 by jumping a passing lane.
51 POINTS THROUGH THREE QUARTERS.
Just watch Devin Booker play basketball. pic.twitter.com/Vro3VckLXh
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That play speaks to the physical condition he’s in now at 26 years old.
“You can see his body is maturing and changing,” head coach Monty Williams said. “He’s able to take the hits around the basket and finish.”
From there, the Suns were up 25. Booker’s minutes have been a bit high a fourth of the way into the season, so Williams will take any opportunity to get him some extra rest right now. Even in a situation like Wednesday.
So Booker didn’t play in the fourth quarter, a period the Suns maintained a healthy enough advantage in not needing him. He was OK with it.
“It’s fine when I’m winning,” Booker said.
Booker’s evening is arguably one of the best shooting performances in the last 40-plus years when you take in the 6-for-7 from 3-point range and 5-of-6 at the foul line. This was not an outlier scoring night that came from a boatload of treys or free tosses.
He became the seventh player since the league started tracking minutes in 1974 to record 50-plus points in 31 minutes or less, according to Stathead. Better yet, only Klay Thompson’s 21-for-33 mark in 2016 reached at least 20 made field goals. And Booker needed only 25 attempts on six made 3-pointers while Thompson drained 13!
The 51 points is the most by a Sun in Footprint Center, a building that dates back to 1992.
It was the third most overall for Booker. He got 59 in Utah, otherwise known as The Jimmer Fredette Game, probably the weirdest basketball game I have ever seen. Then there was the magical 70 in The Garden against the Boston Celtics.
All three of those nights featured a game within a game emerging, when Booker is trying to manipulate the obvious double team heading his way into, erm, not heading his way so he can find enough space to get a shot off. It’s bizarre to watch.
That poetically made Booker’s last two plays of the game passes that led to Suns baskets.
“Those are aggressive double teams,” he said with a smile. “I was looking to shoot, believe me.”
This is where we touch on the drastic difference between Wednesday and those two other nuclear outings.
The Suns were the ones providing the blowout. Not the other way around.
“Obviously feels better with the win,” Booker said. “That was just a whole different time.”
When the foul call neglected the Booker touching 50, he wasn’t worried about it.
“I figured I was going to come out at the end of the third,” Booker said. “A lot of people get on my case when I fall short of 50. I always tell them I’ve done that before and didn’t win, so I’d rather win.
“But tonight we got to do both.”
One more wrinkle in the contest was Booker facing off against Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan, one of the best scorers of this generation and a fellow midrange assassin he admires greatly.
In Booker’s last five meetings with DeRozan, someone he has said in the past he has the “utmost respect” for, Booker is averaging 37.8 points per game with a field goal percentage of 62.9%.
As far as any extra motivation there, Booker said it’s about having something for every game. When the Suns hosted the Detroit Pistons on Friday, Pistons basketball operations advisor Ben Wallace was there, a member of the franchise’s 2004 championship squad that a young Booker cheered on from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Booker made sure to seek out Wallace pregame and shake his hand. He had to be locked in with the Detroit icon in the building.
I’m sure it’s something similar versus DeRozan, a like-minded hooper who it would almost be disrespectful to give anything but his best to.
“Every game I’m gonna find something because I don’t lose sight of being that kid that always wanted to play in the NBA,” Booker said. “And I have a lot of respect (for those who) came before me, the guys that are in here now.”
His night overshadowed another tremendous Deandre Ayton game. Ayton produced 30 points and 14 rebounds after winning Western Conference Player of the Week.