Sunday May 15, 2022

PHOENIX — On the plane ride back home after losing in blowout fashion to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, Suns star Devin Booker joined a card game with teammates Chris Paul and Jae Crowder and discussed their Game 7 challenge ahead.

Paul’s played in seven Game 7s before, going 3-4 overall, but losing his last three. Crowder’s played in two, splitting them with a first round loss in 2014 when he played for the Mavericks and a second round win in 2017 when he played for the Boston Celtics.

For the 25-year-old Booker, Sunday will be his first. It’s an opportunity he relishes.

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“I like coming in here with everybody locked in, top to bottom from the front office looking through the windows — you can feel their demeanor,” Booker said after Saturday’s practice at the Verizon 5G Performance Center. “That’s why we play the sport. We thought we had something going there [in terms of pressure] during the regular season, trying to break the franchise record and this is a whole different beast.”

So far the series has looked drastically different depending on the location. In the Suns’ three home games at Footprint Center, they’ve gone 3-0, winning by an average of 19 points. However, in the Suns’ three road games at American Airlines Center, they’ve gone 0-3, losing by an average of 15.3 points.

Setting the franchise record in wins by going 64-18 in the regular season earned Phoenix the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason and the right to play any deciding Game 7 in their house.

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“If you just look at the history of the league, home court advantage, it’s a real saying,” Booker said. “It’s always tough to win on the road. I think just the comfortability of playing [41] games here rather than two on the road and just playing in front of our fans. I’m sure it’s going to be rowdy in there. It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be a lot of energy. So, I’m looking forward to it.”

Suns coach Monty Williams said his team used Saturday’s practice as a “clean up” day to prepare for the pivotal matchup. Two major points of emphasis? Taking care of the basketball and guarding the 3-point line. In Phoenix’s three losses in the series, the Suns averaged 18.7 turnovers, contributing to the Mavs averaging 16.3 made 3-pointers in those games.

Like Booker, Williams couldn’t hide his anticipation.

“You can feel it,” Williams said. “From the time when we knew we were going to be in a Game 7 until now, the gym is thick with intensity. And that’s how playoff basketball should be.”

Between Saturday’s practice and Sunday’s tipoff, the Suns will have to find a way to pass the time without letting the pressure of a potentially season-ending game get to them.

“I’m going to go get my nails done right now. Pamper myself a little bit. Get my feet done,” said Crowder. “I just try to check my boxes. Just make sure where my body needs to be, look into the game plan, the adjustments that we’re making. Check those boxes off. Watch the second half of the last game. And from that point on, I’ll be ready to go.”

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Crowder added that he streamed a more comedic TV series, “Atlanta,” on the Suns’ off day on Friday and will opt for the more serious drama, “Ozark,” on Saturday. Booker, meanwhile, said he was “going to be wired,” but planned to play the video game “Call of Duty” and find other ways to relax.

“It’s a hot day today, I might get in the pool,” he said.

It won’t be long before the Suns will all be diving into their most important game of the season.

“Just understanding your season is at stake,” Booker said. “So that adds a good pressure to it, an exciting pressure and I think we have the guys in this gym that embrace that. Embrace it, take it in and are ready to perform up to it.”

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