PHOENIX — On the plane home after losing 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 upcoming Match 7 challenge.
Paul has played seven 7s before, going 3-4 on aggregate but losing his last three. Crowder has been in two, splitting them, with a first-round loss in 2014 when he played for the Mavericks and a second-round victory in 2017 as a member of the Boston Celtics.
For Booker, 25, Sunday will be his first. It’s an opportunity he relishes.
“I love coming in here with everyone locked in, top to bottom from the front office looking through the windows — you can feel their behavior,” Booker said after practice Saturday at the Verizon 5G Performance Center. “That’s why we play this sport. We thought something was going on there [in terms of pressure] during the regular season, trying to break the franchise record, and that’s a whole other beast.”
So far, the series has looked drastically different depending on location. In the Suns’ three home games at the Footprint Center, they went 3-0, winning by an average of 19 points. However, in their three road games at the American Airlines Center, they went 0-3, dropping 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 seed in the playoffs and the right to play any 7 deciding game in their home.
“If you just look at league history, home-field advantage is a real saying,” Booker said. “It’s always difficult to win on the road. I think the comfort of playing  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 take a lot of energy. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Suns coach Monty Williams said his team used Saturday practice as a “clean up” day to prepare for the deciding game. Two major points of emphasis: taking care of the basketball and keeping the 3-point line. In Phoenix’s three losses in the series, the Suns averaged 18.7 turnovers, helping the Mavs average 16.3 3-pointers in those games.
Like Booker, Williams couldn’t hide his anticipation.
“You can feel it,” Williams said. “From the moment we knew we were going to be in Game 7 until now, the gym has been filled with intensity. And that’s how playoff basketball should be.”
Between Saturday’s practice and Sunday’s announcement, 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 get my nails done right now. Take care of me a little. Do my feet,” Crowder said. “I’m just trying to tick my boxes. Just make sure where my body needs to be, look at the game plan, the adjustments we’re making. Check those boxes. Watch the second half of the last game. And from there point , I’ll be ready to go.
Crowder added that he aired a more comedic TV series, “Atlanta,” on the Suns’ day off on Friday and would opt for the more serious drama “Ozark” on Saturday. Booker, meanwhile, said he was “going to be wired” but planned to play the Call of Duty video game and find other ways to relax.
“It’s hot today, maybe I’ll get into the pool,” he said.
It won’t be long before the Suns all dive into their most important game of the season.
“Just understanding your season is at stake,” Booker said. “So it adds good pressure, exciting pressure and I think we have the guys in this gym embracing that. Embrace it, absorb it and be ready to rise to the occasion.”