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Where things went wrong for the Phoenix Suns Core 4 in game 1

The undefeated streak wasn’t going to last forever.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

In their Game 1 loss to the LA Clippers, the core four stars for the Phoenix Suns had their worst game since they came together. It’s no coincidence that it culminated in their first loss in nine tries. However, a lot of it projects to be fixed in time for Tuesday’s Game 2.

There were two short stints where only one of the four stars were on the floor and it just didn’t work. Devin Booker was the lone star in both occasions, a display of the trust he’s earned from the coaching staff – as well as maybe the lack of confidence in the others. Here’s how the Suns fared in the Booker-only minutes.

1. lost 6-1 over 1:37 toward the end of 1Q

2. lost 6-0 over 1:52 toward the end of 3Q

It doesn’t help that Ayton picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, which must have impacted his willingness to be physical, especially on the glass down the stretch. His foul trouble also contributed to a longer-than-usual stretch on the bench, roughly nine minutes of game time; his backups, Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale, were a combined -19 in 12 combined minutes.

With Ayton in foul trouble, the Clippers grabbed five offensive rebounds over the last 3:33 of the game, leading to five second-chance points in such crucial moments. He still was able to score more points (4) in the final 6:30 than Booker and Durant combined (2).

The two star scorers were below their high standards down the stretch after combining for 33 first half points on 22 shots; they scored just 20 second half points on 12 shots. Not counting the garbage time drive from Booker in the final seconds, the last bucket from the two came at 6:50 left in the fourth when Durant hit a runner to take a 96-95 lead.

Booker took just seven shots in the second half, but made up for it by putting on a defensive masterclass with two of his four steals and all of his three blocks. The four steals and three blocks are both tied for second in his career. Durant in the second half also took a backseat, getting off just five shot attempts but dishing out eight assists on his way to 11 total for the game, second-most in a game this season for him.

Chris Paul probably should’ve finished with a triple double just based on the shots that normally fall for him were just rimming out tonight, finishing 2-8 from the floor for seven points. His 11 rebounds is a season high and two away from a career high while the 10 assists is his 27th game with double-digit assists this season.

As for the fifth piece of the puzzle, Torrey Craig started over Josh Okogie, shocking many including myself. Okogie only ended up with six and a half minutes logged while Craig was stellar in his role, scoring a season-high 22 points on 12 shots (a season high among all games Booker played).

While we can’t rely on excellence game in and game out from Craig or Okogie, we can expect better from the four main pieces to this roster. Ayton was the only one to meet his scoring average and I don’t think I’m rocking the boat in saying he was the worst of the four in game one.

To me, the most exciting things about the playoffs is watching the changes from game-to-game so seeing how these four react to their underwhelming game one will be key for me at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

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