When: 1:30p.m. AZ Time
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
Watch: TNT, Bally Sports AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
Game three saw the Phoenix Suns take the driver’s seat in this series, behind an all-impressive 45-point performance from Devin Booker.
He would register his fifth 40+ point playoff game, and display many of his growths as an offensive weapon in the process.
His 45 would be accompanied by 28 from Kevin Durant, as they would garner a ton of attention from the Clippers defense, and use their individual gravity to free up the other for looks, in a back-and-forth fashion for stretches.
The Clippers will again be without both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (knee) will not play in Game 4 on Saturday versus the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) April 22, 2023
They’d see a 42-point explosion from Norman Powell, who was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Leonard. That would be accompanied by a 30-point, 12-assist, 8-rebound performance from Russell Westbrook in game three.
Seems as though, without their stars in the mix, the Suns have absorbed and withstood the strongest scoring punch the Clippers can put forth.
Ty Lue mixed and matched his rotations and pieces seemingly as much as possible. While he surely still has tactical tricks in his back pocket (which we're still sure to see), the riddle lies in whether those can stifle the Suns rhythm enough to keep up with their scoring pace.
Now up 2-1, the Suns need to remain mindful of their processes and remain in alignment with said principles, while putting a firm grip on this series before heading back home.
· Chris Paul
· Devin Booker
· Torrey Craig
· Kevin Durant
· Deandre Ayton
· Russell Westbrook
· Eric Gordon
· Norman Powell
· Nicolas Batum
· Ivica Zubac
- Cameron Payne (back) - is OUT
- Kawhi Leonard (knee sprain) is OUT
- Paul George (knee sprain) is OUT
Suns Things to Watch For
The Suns have lost the race to the first timeout in two of the first three games this series, with their first win there coming in game three.
Even in that, it followed them starting down, 0-6. It’d then see a prompt 12-0 run in response, but coming out dictating even from the jump should be emphasized.
Devin Booker Drives
Booker comes into today tied for the most field goal attempts (10.3) stemming from drives in these playoffs.
He also is averaging 15.3 points via drives, the best in the playoffs, on 64.5% (best percentage for players averaging double-digit drives per game.
They have had a different type of pop to them the last month of play, and are serving both as an advantage setter and weapon that Lue has not been able to scheme effectively for this series.
Notice here, how he gets into the ‘Barkley dribble,’ in early offense, assesses the help, and as they turn their attention to their responsibilities and squeeze air space, he times this one with an explosive and sudden burst that burns both the nail help and rim protection.
He has become so crafty getting guys on his shoulder in that mid-post area, then playing out of that advantage.
On this rep, notice the defensive coverage in an attempt to “hit,” him in early offense. He counters by going quick.
This was unique because he processed this in real-time, then burned the extra attention, for an and one, which all indicated the space he's operating in now as a scorer.
Next, notice the - again - early hit applied to him, and how he navigates the attention for yet another foray to the cup, displaying great change of pace, direction, and dexterity within his pace and skill.
He is truly moving at a different pace, and his fitness levels are at a peak space.
In the next play, we see even more of his growth in patience, feel, and composure come into the blend.
He called for Okogie (guarded by Hyland) to set a “hunt” screen to attempt to hunt out Bones Hyland. Hyland, however, was in a quick show and recover.
Booker stretches that coverage out, while Gordon is trailing him, uses a cagey and well-timed hesitation dribble - allowing for him to reposition his feet and base into a more explosive and downhill positioning, then turns on the jets to beat all of the help.
Here, this was just another peak into the elite processing speed of his real-time reads.
I love a good screen reject because the stress it puts on help defense as the screen help is loaded on the other side is destructive.
Notice how he timed it as Craig flipped his angle, then added to that with the crossover to exacerbate the reaction advantage.
To cap it, the wherewithal to stop short - with Westbrook peeling in to take a charge - and decelerate into a soft touch floater... wildly impressive feel on display.
Seeing Booker process with a live dribble and exploit the many tactics deployed by Lue and company will continue to be one of the most entertaining stories in the plot of this series, as Booker is emphatically winning, through three games.
There was plenty of double-teaming, extra attention shown in gaps, and general coverage toggling from the scrappy and stubborn compilation of defenders the Clippers have.
In that, we saw opportunities presented, stemming from the (literally) walking advantage that is Kevin Durant.
Notice here, how preparing to come off the “away” screen here holds the attention of all the players in action at the nail, off-ball, opening an avenue and opportunity for Booker to attack.
Notice next, how the ghost screen from Durant presents Booker with a qualitative advantage to exploit - transitioning from the much better-equipped Mann out in space, to the slower-footed Morris Sr.
Durant doing so, which then leads to him being stashed a pass away (making Mann a ton less reluctant to show extra help to Booker's right hand - the hand he decides to go to here - plays in dynamic perfectly.
Ghost screening is a dynamic of offense, especially on this playoff stage, that the likes of Damion Lee and Landry Shamet are good with. Durant doing so, however, garners an entirely different style of attention and plays into subsequent defensive decision-making, even for helpers.
If you want an even better example, take this play here where it’s clearly botched in responsibilities and flow, and what happens after.
This is what I mean by him just being on the floor, serving as an advantage setter of some capacity.
Lastly, again, with Durant one pass away, following a double team, look at the way the Clippers defense loads up in the drive lanes of their “shift defense,” but also notice how Westbrook (guarding Durant) does not even stunt at the drive of Booker.
Prompt Pick-and-Roll Play
The Suns have cleverly sprinkled in subtle wrinkles for their pick-and-roll play to receive as much real estate to play in a true 2v2 or 2v1 scenario - and have tinkered with their actions leading into it based on how Booker is being defended.
- Even after a -9 mark at the half, and a zero on the boxscore after the final buzzer, the Suns starters remain +30 on the series
- Craig shooting (42.3% from the corners) is sure to hit some regression (maybe?), so seeing what other Suns chip in to help that drop off be less impactful will be something to watch for. Shamet and Lee, in particular, come to mind here
- Turnovers were an Achilles heel for the Suns in game three, as the Clippers amassed 25 points from Suns mishaps. Nine of the Suns 13 turnovers were of the live ball variety. This will need to be cleaned up for them to take a commanding series lead.