Devin Booker has heard from past Suns players how different Phoenix is when the team is in the playoffs.
Now, the Suns’ star guard will finally get to experience the postseason for himself. The Suns ended the second-longest active playoff drought in the NBA when they clinched a postseason berth with a 109-101 win over the LA Clippers at Phoenix Suns Arena on Wednesday night.
The Suns (44-18) have not been to the playoffs since 2010, when Steve Nash was throwing alley-oops to Amar’e Stoudemire. The 10-season drought was tied for fifth longest all time in the NBA.
“It feels great,” said Booker, who will experience the playoffs for the first time in his six seasons. “It’s been a long time coming. I just shut my mouth for five years.”
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“Everybody that used to play for the Suns in the past would come through and be like there was a whole different level to it,” added Booker, who is on pace to score the ninth-most career points by any player in NBA history before his first playoff appearance, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. “Believe me, I am looking forward to it, packing the place out, hopefully, if we get to that point, and the atmosphere, energy and vibe around the whole city to be up.”
As has been the case all season, point guard Chris Paul was a major reason the Suns clinched the a playoff spot on Wednesday. He had 28 points and 10 assists — and the Clippers had no answer for Paul in the fourth quarter, when he hit 5 of 8 shots and scored 15 points.
When the Clippers were within one point of the Suns, Paul hit a 13-foot fadeaway. He then drove and scored, converted a reverse layup and hit a 17-foot pull-up jumper to give the Suns a seven-point lead with 3:31 remaining.
Clippers forward Paul George, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds and came in averaging 36 points against the Suns in the Clippers’ wins in their first two games against Phoenix, declined to answer when asked what makes Paul so tough when he gets going, saying, “Next question.”
There have been contentious moments between these two Western Conference contenders all season, with plenty of trash talking, technical fouls, flagrant fouls and ejections.
Wednesday night marked the first time the Suns beat the Clippers (43-21) this season.
During their first encounter, Paul and Booker jawed at George and had to be separated. After the second meeting between the teams, George said he would let the Suns do all the talking, adding, “I don’t care who they are or what they’re doing.”
Paul was serenaded with MVP chants from Suns fans in the building late in Wednesday’s contest. He was asked if he knew what he had in this roster when he arrived in Phoenix and the kind of impact he could have.
“I feel like I say this all the time: I know who I am,” Paul said. “I knew coming into the situation, I knew who Book was. Book had told me about some of the guys on the team. I knew from playing for Monty [Williams] how detail-oriented he was. Then when I got here, I got a chance to see the culture that they had already built. It’s special.”
For Paul, this will be his 11th consecutive postseason appearance. The only player with a longer streak entering this season was James Harden (11).
Paul said it “wasn’t that hard” to lead the Suns back to the playoffs after their long drought.
“It’s the work, you know what I’m saying?” Paul said. “It’s the opportunity. As long as you do the work day in and day out, you expect this.”
Williams said he appreciates Paul’s leadership and that the Suns are heading back to the postseason in just his second year as Suns head coach.
“I had no idea that we’d get here this quickly … in a short period of time,” said Williams, whose team finished 34-39 last season. “Like I told the players just now, more to do, more to come. We are not satisfied. We are not settling.”
As Williams added, “We feel like we are just scratching the surface as far as the way we want to play, the way we can play. But this is a huge moment for our organization, a huge moment for the fans in the city and state.”
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