For the first time in all of these playoffs, possibly in all of the last 365 days since the Suns played their first game of The Bubble, All-Star guard Devin Booker was not mentally ready to play and laid a complete dud on the court.
He was so bad that head coach Monty Williams removed Booker from the game with just under a minute left in the third quarter with the Suns down 17 points and never put him back in. Booker usually plays the entire third quarter and sometimes the whole fourth as well. But on this night, he was pulled early, sat next to coach Williams for a bit and then quietly watched the remainder of the blowout loss from the sideline.
More from Williams on Booker's performance: "Their aggression, their defense. They keyed on him, he missed some shots.— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) July 12, 2021
"He's been in this situation before... this is nothing new to us anymore. He'll bounce back."
While the Suns are quick to ‘call up’ Deandre Ayton when he has a bad game, no one calls up or calls out Booker when he does the same.
“Just normal stuff,” head coach Monty Williams says of what he told Booker when he pulled him out.
“I don’t mean it to be like that, but that’s between me and coach,” Booker said of the exchange. “We have that relationship, so we keep that in-house.”
With the Suns up two games to zero in the NBA Finals, on the biggest stage of his career, after a year of being hyper-focused every single game of the last 99 games, Booker had his worst no good very bad day.
Book shot 21% from the field (14% beyond the arc), 60% from the free throw line, and scored only 10 points overall in 29 minutes of play.
That was Booker’s worst shooting performance since February 10, 2020 against the Lakers, where he scored 10 points on 2-for-11 from the field. That night was his first game playing in Staples Center on Kobe Bryant’s court just two weeks after his idol died in a helicopter crash. Before that was a year earlier, on February 13, 2019, again scoring 10 points on 2-for-10 from the field.
Once a year. That’s how often Booker throws up a dud game like this. You knew and I knew, I just wanted to confirm your belief that Booker is extremely unlikely to remain terrible in the coming games.
Before last night, Booker has been averaging 27.2 points on 44.3% shooting in these playoffs. In the first two Finals games against this same Bucks team, Booker’s line was 29.2 points on 43.5% shooting.
So what was going on last night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals — the most important game of Booker’s life to date?
Two words in that prior sentence will give you a clue on the answer: Game 3
Here are Booker’s line in Game 3s in these playoffs so far.
- Round 1, at Lakers: 19 points on 31% shooting, LOSS
- Round 2, at Nuggets: 28 points on 47% shooting, WIN
- Round 3, at Clippers: 15 points on 23% shooting, LOSS
- Round 4, at Bucks: 10 points on 21% shooting, LOSS
That’s 18 points on 32% shooting in Game 3s, while the Suns are 1-3 in those games.
By contrast, the Suns are 4-0 in Game 1s, 3-1 in Game 2s, 3-0 in Game 4s, 1-1 in Game 5s and 2-0 in Game 6s.
After starting off all four series very well — Booker averages 27.7 points on 46% shooting in Game 1 and 2s — it seems that Booker is just simply bad in Game 3s.
Is Booker exhausted from making sure the Suns have the series lead after the first two games and he’s got nothing left for Game 3?
Or is he just so happy at home these days that he hates travel and needs a game to adjust to sleeping in a hotel bed?
Who the heck knows.
What I do know is that Booker will get better again, really soon. He had a bad Game 4 against the Lakers in the first round but that’s because the Lakers focused all their attention on him and the Suns won with other players anyway. But he was great in Game 4 against the Nuggets in a close-out game, and scored 25 of the Suns 84 points in Game 4 against the Clippers.
Then hopefully we will have a closeout game, where Booker has been incredible these playoffs. In four closeout opportunities, the Suns are 3-1 with Book posting 33.4 points on 47% shooting.
Booker was not the only problem the Suns had on Sunday night. He wasn’t even their biggest problem.
Deandre Ayton started well, but for the first time in the 2021 Playoffs (19 games) he found himself in foul trouble and only played 24 minutes himself.
In Ayton’s absence, the other Suns defenders are smaller than the Bucks but they didn’t even TRY to box out the Bucks bigs and get those gang rebounds you can get when you hustle harder than the other team. Only Ayton can outreach the Bucks, but throwing your butt into a big on a box out can help your teammate get the rebound, and the Suns did not throw any butts around in the paint on Sunday night.
And, the Suns shooters failed to show up. Shooters not named Jae Crowder made only 3 of 24 three-pointers on the night. THREE OF 24! Combine that with Ayton playing only half the game and you’re lucky it was only a 20 point loss.
Many of those deficiencies will be shored up between now and the next game. Expect Devin Booker to lead the way.
Suns play Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, 6:00 PM on ABC.