The Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker Catches Fire in the NBA 3-Point Contest

All-Star Saturday Night at the Staples Center (Hogan Davis/MEDILL)

By Hogan Davis
Medill Reports

The roar of the crowd increased incrementally as ball after ball swished through, as if the rim didn’t exist. Each shot caused the decibel level in the Staples Center to rise until the final moneyball found the bottom of the net.

That flame-throwing final round by the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker Saturday, won the NBA All-Star Three-Point Contest, pushing aside hometown favorite Klay Thompson. Booker’s 28 points on 20 of 25 shooting were a final-round record, beating the previous mark of 27 held by Thompson and his Golden State Warriors teammate Stephen Curry.

It was a performance that evoked the most iconic moment in NBA three-point history, when Larry Bird walked into the locker room before the 1987 competition and reportedly asked, “Which one of you guys is going to finish second?”

Thompson’s daunting task was to follow Booker in the final, and most years his 25 points would have been enough for the win, but this wasn’t most years. In the midst of the best season of his young career, Booker has become one of the league’s elite sharpshooters, averaging more than 24 points-per-game while shooting 38 percent from the three-point line.

If three-point shooting is all about rhythm and repetition, smooth mechanics and staying contained, then Booker, 21, was a triple machine on Saturday night. Thompson is the one often credited as having ideal shooting form, but it wasn’t enough for the 28-year-old Los Angeles native to keep pace.

The first round of the Three-Point Contest didn’t give fans many indications of the brilliance they would see in the finals. Tobias Harris led off with a respectable 18 points, good enough to round out the top three and advance to the next round, but returning champion Eric Gordon and the rest of the group put up pedestrian showings.

In his press conference following the victory, Booker actually gave the other shooters an out, explaining how difficult it is to shoot while grabbing balls from the racks when they’re so used to taking jumpers off of passes. He even suggested a tweak to the competition to make it more natural.

“It would be kind of like the Home Run Derby,” he said, “with a pick who pitches to you, but someone to pass to. I think it would be a good look.”

In direct contrast to the building excitement during Booker’s shooting display, the awkward groans and scattered boos that greeted Paul George’s underwhelming attempt were the low point of All-Star Saturday night. George, who also grew up in L.A., will be a major target in free agency this summer for Lakers fans, but a stretch where the All-Star made one of 15 shots turned a potential homecoming party into an embarrassing footnote.

Anything less than Booker’s domination might have made George’s night the lead story. But like the first three years of the contest, when Bird owned the three-point line, everyone else was playing for second.

Photo at Top: All-Star Saturday Night at the Staples Center (Hogan Davis/MEDILL)