Behind an all-world performance from Devin Booker, the Phoenix Suns started to click again in 123-109 win over the LA Clippers, evening the series 1-1.
“I thought the spacing was a lot better tonight,” Monty Williams said. “I thought we were organized a bit better than we were the other day. Just having the balance of [Booker] and Kevin (Durant) being able to get to their spots with the live ball helps.”
Devin Booker had 38 points on 14 of 22 shooting, including 18 in the third quarter alone when the Suns took control of the game.
“Book scores in a number of ways and when he is going like that,” Monty Williams said. “I think the team feeds off of his high-level play.”
The other big guys delivered as well. Kevin Durant had 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Deandre Ayton had 14 points and 13 huge rebounds. And Chris Paul had 16 points, including 8 in the fourth quarter when the Suns put the game away.
Phoenix needed a fast start if for no other reason to get the vibes right, and they got one even if it was short-lived; Kevin Durant got a quick floater, then the Suns got a stop on a full 24-second possession and followed it with a Torrey Craig three assisted by Durant. Clippers responded with a few threes before Chris Paul got his scoring started with a patented middy.
With Scott Foster calling the game, we were all but assured some tomfoolery at some point in the game, and it didn’t take long. Torrey Craig was loosely involved in a rebound that culminated in a would-be steal for Booker, and Craig was called for a foul which he took exception to. Foster took exception to Craig taking exception and was T’d up (they don’t call him “T-C” for nothing, folks).
Scott Foster making his presence known as he calls the tech on Torrey Craig pic.twitter.com/V8QSq88XPx— hoops bot (@hoops_bot) April 19, 2023
Josh Okogie, who played less than seven minutes in game 1, saw his first action in the first quarter and knocked down a corner three assisted by Bismack Biyombo, who was seeing more run for reasons I simply do not understand.
Kawhi Leonard continued to be the best player in the series in the first quarter with eight points and five assists, leading the Clippers to a 29-24 lead. Phoenix was struggling to keep strong defenders attached to him, with one possession notably defended by Landry Shamet, who’s giving up just a whole lot of size in that matchup.
All four stars were in to close the first quarter, and all but Durant stayed out there to start the second, where Booker usually rides the bench to start. Durant replaced Booker just a couple minutes later as Damion Lee and TJ Warren each got their first run of the series, joined by a more involved Okogie.
Ayton got it going in the second with 10 points in the first six minutes alone, but it was Booker who had the stretch of a self-created middy then immediately called for the Leonard assignment and stopped Leonard who was in a rhythm, and Booker’s cherry on top was finding Craig for a corner three right after. Durant followed it with back-to-back buckets as the Suns cut it from double digits to single digits.
“We had one timeout where everybody to a man was talking about the ability to guard the ball,” Williams said later. “They were just blowing by it and getting to the baskets for layups. Once we stopped them from doing that and got the ball, we were able to get out and run. That generated some energy.”
Booker and Durant continued to trade buckets and stops on Leonard down the stretch of the half, and Booker punctuated that with a contested pull-up three to tie the game going into a half. A 13-point deficit was down to zilch, knotted at 59. Four players scored at least 13 points, two on each side — Durant (16), Booker (13), Russell Westbrook (17), and Leonard (16).
“I think how we finished the second quarter overall outside of that shot was good momentum going into the third,” Booker said later.
Booker continued that momentum into the third with seven points in the first 2:30, becoming the first in the game to reach 20 points — and doing so on just 11 shots. He followed it up with a contested rebound and another assist for a Craig corner three, giving Phoenix a 10-point lead in a blink of an eye.
Ayton picked up two quick fouls which killed some momentum, but the other three stars kept the standard high; Durant and Paul each hit a mid-range shot and Booker had another elite two-way sequence, hitting a layup from under the basket and forcing a Zubac travel on the other end. Shortly after, he once again found Craig for a corner three.
Torrey Craig has 5 of the Suns' 8 3-point makes in this game and 7 of their 14 3-point makes so far in the series lol— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) April 19, 2023
“Craig made just about every big shot for us tonight,” Chris Paul said after the game. “If you watch the game, it is the timing of his shots. Sometimes when a team has a chance to cut it from six to four or three, Craig would hit a three to put us up nine. It was the timing of his shots that he made that is big in the series.”
With a minute and a half remaining in the third and the Suns up 87-81, they activated “KD at the 5” mode alongside Booker, Shamet, Okogie, and Craig. The added space gave both squads more room to operate how they want to; the Clippers got their penetration game going and the Suns had ample spacing for jumpers, including a Booker three to give him 18 in the quarter and 31 overall to lead all scorers. Suns go into the fourth up 92-87, making the total 5-5 for the “KD at the 5” time.
When Paul hit back-to-back middies with about 10 minutes left to get Phoenix’s lead back to double digits, it started to feel like a night that Phoenix was meant to leave with a W. The sequence also meant all five Suns starters were in double figures while only three Clippers starters (four overall) were.
Booker did not let up all fourth quarter on either end and neither did Durant whether it came to defense, scoring, or playmaking for others. Late in the game, however, it was Chris Paul pick-and-roll with Deandre Ayton every time down and it worked every time down. Opportunities were mostly split between the two and Paul got his middy going while Ayton had some nice finishes at the rim.
“Booker, Booker, KD and CP. They did a good job of just controlling the game,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “In that second half and fourth quarter they really took over. We tried to blitz, we tried to fire, we did a lot of different things, like I said, they played great.”
Suns win it 123-109 and Devin Booker, who’s been the best player in the series thus far, finishes with 38 points (14-22 FG) and nine assists in 45 minutes.
Suns and Clippers now travel an hour-and-a-half to Los Angeles, where the two teams will try to take a 2-1 lead on the other. They’ll tip at 7:30 p.m. AZ time on Thursday. Could a Cam Payne return be in play after he was listed as questionable for game 2?