DALLAS — With the Phoenix Suns trailing by two points with 10 seconds remaining Monday night, coach Monty Williams drew up a play he borrowed from Doc Rivers, one that Chris Paul used to run to create 3-point looks for JJ Redick during their days with the LA Clippers.
A few teams later in Paul’s career, it was Devin Booker coming off a screen set by Deandre Ayton, catching Paul’s pass on the right wing and rising up to drill the game winner with 1.5 seconds remaining in a dramatic 109-108 decision over the slumping Dallas Mavericks.
“All the confidence in the world,” said Paul — who had 34 points, nine rebounds and nine assists — when asked how he felt when Booker caught the pass. “When I spun and knew Book was coming there, I could see him. His eyes were huge. He knew he wanted the ball — big-time shot.”
It was the fifth go-ahead shot in the final 5 seconds of a game in Booker’s career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Only Russell Westbrook (seven) has made more such shots since Booker entered the league in 2015-16.
“I look forward to them when the opportunity presents itself,” said Booker, who finished with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting in his return after missing the previous four games with a left hamstring strain. “That’s why we work so hard. That’s why we train so hard. I use my imagination in my workouts to put myself in those situations.”
The Mavs had a foul to give before Booker’s shot and were instructed to use it during the timeout before the play. Dallas power forward Maxi Kleber, who made his return after missing 11 games due to COVID-19, switched onto Paul after a screen but didn’t foul him, instead playing Paul straight up and attempting to deflect the pass. Booker immediately went into his shooting form after the catch and swished the shot despite it being tightly contested by Mavs shooting guard Josh Richardson.
“We didn’t [take the foul], and so that’s my responsibility,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s not going to be any finger-pointing. It’s going to fall right in my lap. We’re just learning the hard way that attention to the smallest details is of the utmost importance. It’s hard to imagine being more disappointed after a game.
“It’s a really bad mistake. It’s just so unfortunate, because the game was there.”
The Mavs’ sixth straight loss — and ninth in 11 games — was sealed when Luka Doncic missed a 28-foot prayer over two defenders at the buzzer.
Booker played 31 minutes — a few more than the Suns had planned in his return from the hamstring strain — in part because he was so spectacular in the fourth quarter. He had 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the quarter — including a 3 from the left wing that put Phoenix up one with 2:21 remaining; a tough, midrange step-back jumper over 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis to tie it up with 55 seconds left; and the game winner.
“I imagine if I would have taken Book out in the fourth; that would have been the first time you saw a player knock a coach out on the sideline,” Williams said. “So I just thought I’d stay away from that scenario and let him play, as long as he was looking good.”
Paul called the 11-8 Suns’ excellent late-game execution “growth” for a team that is trying to get back to the postseason after the franchise’s decadelong drought. It’s the kind of moment that the 35-year-old Paul can’t imagine living without.
“I was telling the guys in the locker room that I don’t know if I can ever retire because the emotional roller coaster that you go on during a game — like for real, for real — there’s no high like that,” Paul said. “The energy when you’re pissed and mad, and then the joy when you win the game. It’s really nice to get a win like this with this group of guys that we’ve got.”