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Booker and CP3 need to be better, plain and simple

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You win playoff series with your stars making the biggest shots. The Phoenix Suns need Devin Booker and Chris Paul to be those stars.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Four Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t feel like the team that leads the Western Conference Finals by a 3-2 margin is the better team right now. And I’ll tell you how that’s not an emotional hot-take.

Yes, the Phoenix Suns are better on paper than a Kawhi-less Los Angeles Clippers team, but that Kawhi-less Clippers team beat the Jazz, has won two of the last three games against the Suns and has outscored the Suns by 17 points overall in the five games (3.4 per game margin). Their remaining star, Paul George, just made 75% of his shots in Game 5, including a third-to-fourth quarter stretch that was mind bogglingly good.

The two Clippers wins (+14, +14) are more convincing than the three Suns wins (+6, +1, +4). The Clippers are shooting better than the Suns in terms of advanced shooting that factors in the value of threes and frees. On the tried-and-true Four Factors scale, the Clippers are better than the Suns in three of the categories.

The Suns can thank Deandre Ayton for the offensive rebound number, as he’s been averaging 4.4 offensive rebounds per game all by himself this series. No one else is averaging more than 1.4 against the Clippers.

The Suns just aren’t playing well, and it’s the starting lineup that is failing them since Chris Paul returned in Game 3.

Devin Booker and Chris Paul have been bad. Just bad. I know we’ve got a broken nose for one guy and some mysterious physical thing going on for the other one (COVID-related fatigue? more sting from the shoulder stinger? who knows, but SOMETHING is going on). They just aren’t themselves, and they both admit they need to be better.

Let me digress for a moment: For all the pearl-clutching by Clippers fans over the Suns’ easy ride through the playoffs, maybe we should take note that the Clippers

  • tanked the end of the season to avoid the Lakers
  • got to play Dallas with a clearly limited Kristaps Porzingis
  • then got to play Utah with no Mike Conley and badly limping Donovan Mitchell
  • and now got to play Phoenix with limited Chris Paul and broken-nosed Devin Booker.

Okay, back to today.

It’s not just CP and Booker who have been bad in the starting lineup. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are combining for only 14 points per game in this series, shooting 48%/33% and 32%/27% on total shots and three-pointers, respectively uhh... respectively.

Those four are collectively dragging down Deandre Ayton (18.2 points on 67% shooting, 13 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), who has been excellent in four of the five games this series. He was bad on Monday night, though. After being pretty good all series against the Clippers small-ball lineups, Ayton could not keep up with them on Monday.

Before you go down the tear-stained rabbit hole predicting future doom, please remind yourself this was a one-game sample on Ayton. He’s been great all series, all playoffs, and had a bad game. It happens.

He’s been great at protecting the rim all series, protecting the paint, but took his foot off the gas on Monday. I’m interested to see how he responds in Wednesday’s game.

I could go into more stats, but they all tell the same story. The Suns lineups with Chris Paul (last 3 games) have been abysmal, and the Clippers cannot take all the credit for that.

*big thanks to Clippers blogger/podder Justin Russo for doing so much stat finding for his Twitter followers last night! He’s a Clippers fan, sure, but he’s a helluva follow. I’ve had him in my timeline for years now and never regretted it.

The Suns need better to win this series. They need better from Chris Paul. From Devin Booker. They also need better from Jae Crowder. From Mikal Bridges. From Deandre Ayton. From Cameron Payne. From Dario Saric. From everyone.

But mostly, they need better from their stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

It’s easy to get the door mostly closed, but really really hard to get it to latch. Just ask CP3 how hard that is.

This Clippers team loves being the underdog. They lost the first two to the Mavericks, then won 4 of 5 to take the series. They lost the first two to the Jazz, then won 4 straight to take the series. Now they lost the first two to the Suns, and have (so far) won 2 of 3 to stay alive. They are gaining steam just when the Suns wish they would just go away.

The Suns have two games to get ONE MORE WIN.

Their next chance is Wednesday night, at Staples Center in LA.

The Clippers know they can win out. They just need to secure a home win on Wednesday, and game seven is anybody’s ballgame. They already proved they can win in Phoenix.

The Suns need to be better.

“We got another opportunity in a couple of days,” backup forward Cameron Johnson said afterward. “That’s what the playoffs is about. It’s tough, and that’s what everybody said it would be and you can’t expect a team to just roll over. They brought it today and gave us a tough time. We just have to bring it next game.”

Devin Booker said it even better. He’s ready for the challenge over the next two days, not just the upcoming game itself.

“The process of this and the journey of it is second-to-none,” Booker said, right after the 14-point loss in Game 5 at home. “I said it after we lost (Game 3, followed by Saturday’s win), we don’t want to lose any games, but coming back into the film session, getting together as a team and talking it out, that’s part of it, too. Once you start enjoying that and having fun with that, I think good things happen for our team. We’ve responded well all season.”