The loss by the Phoenix Suns at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in the In-Season Tournament quarterfinal game last night, controversial or not, still counts as a loss. It also counts towards the Suns’ regular season record, dropping them to 12-9 on the season and into the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
Giving credit where it is due, the Lakers’ defense clamped down and made life hell for the Suns. Los Angeles is long and large, and with complementary players like Taurean Prince and Jarred Vanderbilt, they possess a defensive acumen coupled with length, physicality, and lateral quickness that has been a challenge for Phoenix to navigate this season. The Suns are 0-3 against the Lakers thus far.
Sprinkle in the fact that Cam Reddish was chopping at Suns’ forearms like Louie the Lumberjack, and the brand of basketball that they play is troublesome for Phoenix. Yes, I had to get a shot in there. The Suns did it to themselves last night, but they didn’t need any help from the officials.
So yeah, it was a loss. But it was a unique loss seeing as it was a quarterfinal elimination game in the In-Season Tournament. It could technically be classified as an elimination game.
Which brings us to Devin Booker.
Devin Booker has played superbly this season as he has embraced his new role as the primary facilitator for Phoenix. He has downloaded the knowledge obtained after playing alongside Chris Paul for three seasons and deployed it as a part of his game now. His playmaking has numerous national pundits turning their heads and taking notice.
Last night, however, was an off night for Booker. He shot 6-of-16 from the field and dished out six assists, but had seven turnovers. That is right, he had more turnovers than field goals made or assists. In front of a national audience. In what some can deem as an elimination game.
Hello, anti-Booker trolls, how are you? Oh, you needed some fuel to the fire that Book hasn’t provided you thus far this year? Well, here you go! An “elimination game” stinker.
One of the anti-Booker points of emphasis is his performances in elimination games. Those beating the drum that Jayson Tatum or Donovan Mitchell are better than Devin Booker as a basketball player simply point to this fact. And if you classify last night’s game as an elimination game, it doesn’t help his narrative.
Elimination game Devin Booker showed out again:— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) December 6, 2023
1 tilted headband pic.twitter.com/Hgmny8UU5c
Prior to Tuesday, Devin Booker had played in three postseason elimination games in his career. How did he fare?
- Game 6 of the NBA Finals vs. Milwaukee: 19 pts (8-of-22, 0-of-7 3PT), 6 TO
- Game 7 of the WCSF vs. Dallas: 11 pts (3-of-14, 0-of-4 3PT), 4 TO
- Game 6 of the WCSF vs. Denver: 12 pts (4-of-13, 1-of-3 3pT), 2 TO
His average in those three elimination games is very un-Booker-like: 14 points on 30.6 FG% and 7.1 3PT%. If you add Tuesday to the mix, those numbers become 15.7 points on 32.3 FG% and 13.3 3PT%.
Going back to Tuesday night, I will once again give credit to the Lakers and the way that they defensively attacked Devin Booker. We’ve seen numerous opposing teams opt to throw blitzes at him, but Los Angeles was like a Bill Belichick defense. They concealed their coverages, so Booker had no idea when or where the double team was coming from.
Their length and athleticism, coupled with their defensive IQ and ability to play the passing lanes, generated numerous Booker turnovers. Two things can be true at once. In this case, Booker had a down game, and the Lakers’ defense was certainly dictating pace on ensuring that.
Thankfully for Phoenix, the elimination game was during the In-Season Tournament, not at the end of the season. The 2023-24 campaign rolls on as the Suns play the Sacramento Kings, who lost to the New Orleans Pelicans in their IST quarterfinal, on Friday night.
Side note: Wouldn’t it be nice that if you’re a team that lost in the IST quarterfinal was matched up against somebody like the Pistons? Reward the fact that they made is IST knockout round by scheduling them to play someone with a lottery pick.
Regardless of the opponents, the Suns are back at it on Friday night. Seeing as there’s no elimination game designation, hopefully we see another stellar Booker performance.
Does the IST quarterfinal loss classify as another subpar booker elimination game performance?