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Change everything! The Suns lost, and now their rotation is in shambles

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The Phoenix Suns have a 2-1 lead over the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, with Game 4 on Saturday night in LA

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Three Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Cameron Payne is a better option to run the offense than Chris Paul against these Clippers.

Devin Booker’s role in the offense should be changed to more of a catch-and-shoot guy, a la JJ Redick, if he can’t shake Pat Bev that well.

Post up Deandre Ayton on the block every time down and let him go to work.

Jevon Carter and Langston Galloway should be playing.

The Suns top bench players have been exposed in these Conference Finals, finally proving the Suns just aren’t ready for prime time.

Have I missed anything?

These are some of the takes I’ve seen on my timeline, in comments sections and/or on the YouTube chat on the Solar Panel post-game show last night.

You’d think the Suns are in the midst of a losing streak.

In reality the Suns lost their first game in almost a month last night. They have a 2-1 lead with home court advantage in a best-of-seven series to win the whole Western Conference and go to their first NBA Finals in almost 30 years. They have a league-best 10 wins against a league-low 3 losses in these playoffs, after a season in which they had the league’s best road record, best clutch record and best overall winning percentage since January 28.

Maybe the sky isn’t falling?

They simply just work hard enough against a Clippers team that was desperate to win a game.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker were compromised on Thursday night in ways that will at least marginally improve by Saturday.

Paul spent the past 10 days at home, in quarantine for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated in February and asymptomatic the whole time. He first saw his teammates on game day in LA on Thursday morning at shoot-around. While we hoped he would be bursting with unspent energy, he truly played like he hadn’t done a lot of NBA-level activity in almost two weeks. His energy and stamina will be much better by next game.

Booker was wearing a facemask after Patrick Beverley broke his nose in Game 2 on Tuesday, and though Book denied the mask or the nose had any impact on his game, he was adjusting it constantly — sometimes during live action — and had his worst shooting performance of the playoffs.

Some are saying that Patrick Beverley owns all of Devin Booker’s property now, and the numbers would agree.

Let’s be straight. Donovan Mitchell was hobbled by a really bad ankle, and Devin Booker is dealing with a freshly broken nose, but Beverley really does get under Booker’s skin and into his head. Booker played tentatively when he needed to be aggressive.

Your ultra-efficient All-Star guards who have been dominating all playoffs had a bad game. They combined to make just 10 of 40 shots between them on Thursday. That’s 25% shooting, from a pair that averages 50% on those shots.

Here’s another way to tell the story: the Suns scored just 8 points on midrange shots on Thursday night in Game 3. The Monsters of the Midrange were outworked by the Clippers, but they simply missed a bunch of shots they normally make. Combine that with bad three-point shooting (10 of 32) and a paltry 13 free throws and you’ve got the recipe for a loss.

The Suns will make adjustments, sure. If Cameron Payne has to miss Game 4 with the bad ankle, head coach Monty Williams will have to decide who gets the bulk of Payne’s minutes. On Thursday, those minutes went almost exclusively to Booker (40 minutes) and Paul (39 minutes), who just didn’t play well.

For all the angst about E’Twaun Moore, he played only five minutes on Thursday and the Suns were +6 on the scoreboard in those minutes. Playing Moore over Jevon Carter and Langston Galloway was not the problem.

Almost certainly, Monty Williams won’t make any further adjustments to missing Payne. He will simply count on his All-Stars to play another 40 minutes each, but this time to do it better.

Devin Booker has put up bad shooting games, and he’s always always responded well. That’s why he’s a killer. Look at this game log for the 2021 Playoffs, courtesy of basketball-reference.com.

Notice the plus/minus column. He’s a pretty good player, and no he should not be relegated to a catch-and-shoot role because of a couple of bad games.

Don’t forget Booker’s eye popping Game 1 against that same Clippers team where he recorded 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists — the first Suns playoff triple-double since Nash and the first 40-point triple double since Barkley.

Booker was ‘managed’ against the Lakers in Games 2-4 when they consistently threw defenses at him that he hadn’t seen. He and the Suns coaching staff figured it out, and the return to health of Chris Paul had a positive effect as well. In Game 5 of that Lakers series he scored 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting and Game 6 he scored 47 on 15-of-22 shooting to close out the series.

Don’t count out Devin Booker, folks.

And don’t count out Chris Paul. CP3 was compromised all through the opening round against the Lakers and missed the first two games of these Conference Finals, but in between he was a superstar against the Denver Nuggets.

Against Denver, Paul averaged 25.5 points on 63% shooting (75% on threes), plus 10.3 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He was 5th in MVP votes this season, and second-team All-NBA.

My guess is Monty Williams’ adjustments for Game 4 are very minor and that today will be a typical ‘Suns day’, meaning they will follow the same routine they’ve been following all year long on a day between games. Nothing more, nothing less. My guess is that the coaching staff will devise ways to get Patrick Beverley out of Book’s air space a bit more often (screens, switching, catching the ball on the move going down hill), and maybe just maybe swap Moore for Jevon Carter.

But scheme-wise and personnel-wise, Saturday’s game won’t look much different from the 11 prior playoff games that CP and Book both started.

It’s the effort and execution that needs to be better.

Guess what the Suns are most known for since the Bubble? That’s right. Effort and execution.