By Jack Bantock, CNN
It would be difficult to name a better love story than Devin Booker and March 24.
Five years on from his historic 70-point demolition job against the Boston Celtics, Booker surged to a season-high 49 points against the Denver Nuggets to help secure the Phoenix Suns’ 60th win of the season on Thursday.
A hard-fought 140-130 road victory saw the Suns wrap up their seventh straight win and the top spot in the West for the playoffs. Their .811 winning percentage is comfortably the NBA’s highest, with the Memphis Grizzlies closest at .689.
Averaging 26 points per game, Booker has led scoring for the league’s best performing team, but went up another level in Denver, adding four rebounds, 10 assists and three steals in a dominant performance.
The 25-year-old went 16-for-25 from the field and made 15 of his 17 free throws, becoming the fourth youngest player in history to score 11,000 points.
Booker for MVP?
Achievement of the scoring milestone puts Booker in the company of NBA royalty alongside LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, doing little to quell calls for Booker to be named MVP.
Two steals in the space of a minute late in the third quarter — including one on the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic — epitomized Booker’s all-around virtuoso display, with both followed up with buckets.
Jokic led scoring for the Nuggets with 28, while Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul starred for the Suns with 22 and 17 respectively. Paul, back in the team after a long spell on the sidelines through injury, provided a game-high 13 assists.
Suns coach Monty Williams called it “somewhat silly” that Booker would not be in the discussion for MVP, reflecting on what he believed to be one of his guard’s finest ever performances.
“One of the best performances I’ve seen him [Booker] have since I’ve been here,” Williams told reporters.
“To have 49 and 10 on a back-to-back … the fact that he’s not in the MVP conversation is just somewhat silly.
“When you can will your team to win like that and do it in a fashion that he did it in tonight, it says a lot about his work ethic and his individual ability.”
‘This team needs some flowers’
After being serenaded with MVP chants by Suns fans that had made the trip to Ball Arena, Booker was asked whether he felt he deserved to be in the running for the accolade.
“Yeah,” Booker replied, but not before asserting that it was time for the Suns to get the respect they deserve.
“People playing with my name man, it’s just too much for me,” Booker told reporters. “I’ve been at it for a long time now, and I’m the type to see anything and take it as disrespect.
“Now that we have the one seed locked up, we’ve been winning basketball games for two years straight now, this team needs some flowers.
“Coach Monty [Williams] should have been coach of the year last year — there’s just so much I feel doesn’t get talked about in this team. We’ve done a good job of not worrying about what people say about us, but it needs some recognition.”
The Suns host the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday before three consecutive road games, with their last game of the regular season being a visit to the Los Angeles Clippers on April 7.
After that, the playoff mission to avenge last year’s heartbreaking Finals defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks begins. Should the Suns succeed, Booker might be lifting two MVP trophies in a single season.
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