MILWAUKEE — Devin Booker moved slowly and meticulously from his locker to the exit, much the way one might expect when departing a room of peers not guaranteed to reconvene as a group.
Reality hit with force for the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. As the book closed on a surprising return to the playoffs culminating in what might have been measured six months ago as an implausible NBA Finals run, the Suns sat in complete silence in the losing locker room at Fiserv Forum frozen by the gravity of reaching the end.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Booker said in a somber postgame media session before rushing to hop a flight to Tokyo to join Team USA.
“So, I think all of our games have gotten better and like I said, we understand how important each possession is now and this feeling, I keep talking about the hurt, you know, you don’t want this and this is what you strive for, this is what you go into the summer with and you take it and use it as fuel.”
The 24-year-old Booker was 0-for-7 from 3-point range in the deciding game in the series Tuesday. He proved a brilliant shot-maker and scorer in these playoffs but going 3-for-21 from long distance in the Suns’ four Finals losses is going to sting the rest of the summer. He also had six turnovers in Game 6.
Turnovers were such an issue for 36-year-old point guard Chris Paul that the Suns had Booker bring the ball up the court for all but one first-quarter possession. The shift seemed to save Paul’s legs in a 26-point effort.
“Ain’t no moral victories or whatnot. We sort of saw what it takes to get there and hopefully we see what it takes to get past that,” Paul said.
Suns head coach Monty Williams went to the Bucks’ locker room after addressing his own team to congratulate Mike Budenholzer and multiple Milwaukee players.
Healing his own wounds and disappointment isn’t going to come easily. He said the message he wants the Suns to take away for the abbreviated offseason — teams report to training camp in two months — is “we know what it takes to get here.”
Williams also said the harsh reality is no one in the Suns’ locker room knows if, or when, they’ll ever be back on this stage.
“I’ve never dealt with this kind of hurt as a head coach. I don’t know,” Williams said. “I just think that when you go through something like this for the first time, you don’t expect to get this far. So, from that standpoint what a huge accomplishment by our players to get to the playoffs for the first time and get all the way to the Finals and have a chance to play for a championship, like that’s hard to process. You typically get to the first round and you’re done. And you learn and then you try to get to the second round. We got all the way to the Finals. And that hasn’t been lost in my thinking.
“There’s just a pain that goes with your season being over, but I’ve never dealt with this and so I’m grateful, like I said, but I know this is going to hurt for a while. But I don’t want that to take away from what our guys did this year.”