It wasn’t meant to be. Yet.
Following a frustrating half-decade with the Phoenix Suns before this season, starting shooting guard Devin Booker and his team were unable to close out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on Monday night, falling 116-102.
Booker and the Suns now lead the series three games to two and have another chance to end it on Wednesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles at 6 p.m. PT.
After shooting a combined 18-of-59 (30.5 percent) from the field in his last three games, Booker had a slightly more effective performance by recording 31 points on 9-of-22 shooting (4-of-6 from 3-point range) along with four rebounds and three assists.
For the third straight contest, Booker wore a facemask to shield his broken nose and said he felt more comfortable than before.
“Just made a couple of adjustments, opened up the eye pocket to see a little bit better,” Booker said. “But yeah, it’s a little better.”
On a night in which the Clippers primarily employed a zone defense, Booker and Suns starting point guard Chris Paul were their primary scoring options early on, recording 28 of Phoenix’s 52 points while their teammates shot 10-of-24 (41.6 percent) from the field in the first half.
Booker did not make a 3-point attempt in the second half, with six points each coming in the third and fourth quarters. His primary concern was the Suns’ defensive effort, as they allowed 58 points in the paint without Clippers starting center Ivica Zubac available.
“I think they spaced us out well, running their small-ball lineup which opened the paint,” Booker said. “But as a team, we still have to guard with five people.
Here’s more of what Booker said after the Suns’ Game 5 loss.
On what the Suns need to do to have more energy earlier:
“It’s on all of us. They came out, they punched us in the face to start the game. And I think we showed it at spots tonight and at certain times, but they’re not going to go away easily. So we have to be locked in from beginning to end.”
On what he saw defensively from his team, which gave up 58 points in the paint without Clippers starting center Ivica Zubac available:
“I think they spaced us out well, running their small-ball lineup which opened the paint. But as a team, we still have to guard with five people. It’s never a one-on-one matchup, so all five have to be locked in and even the bench has to be ready. Show bodies and help each other out out there.”
If he felt more comfortable with his facemask in Game 5 than Game 4:
“Just made a couple of adjustments, opened up the eye pocket to see a little bit better. But yeah, it’s a little better.”
If the loss will motivate the Suns to respond with urgency:
“I think we’ll be ready to go for Game 6. That’s a tough loss for us at home, with a chance to clinch to go to the NBA Finals. So we’ll be ready.”
On the difference with the Clippers’ small-ball approach in this game:
“I’d have to go back and watch it again. But at the same time, 50 points in the paint, we still helped each other in that area, even when they spaced us out in the previous games. But you can blame it on everybody, a lot of straight-line drives and no help at the same time. So this is a five-man defense, it’s been that way the whole season and we have to be better.”
On what he anticipates the next two days will look like as the Suns prepare for Game 6:
“We’re going to be ready. We’re going to look at the film of the game and make the adjustments that are necessary, but still having fun with it. The process of this and the journey of it is second-to-none. I said it after we lost the first one — obviously, we didn’t want to lose any games but coming back into the film session, getting together as a team and talking everything out, that’s part of it, too. So once you start enjoying that and having fun with that, good things happen for our team and we’ve responded well all season.”
On what limited the Suns’ urgency:
“We managed to get back into the game a few times. I think they stretched it to 10 multiple times and we fought back. It was just that last stretch, we don’t want to spend the whole game fighting uphill. So we just got to come out with a sense of urgency and be ready to go.”