Kevin Durant was acquired to help the Phoenix Suns get over the top, but Devin Booker remains the club’s elite sharpshooter.
Booker will look to put on another show-stopping performance when the Suns visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night for Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
The teams split the first two games.
Booker, who has spent all eight of his NBA seasons with Phoenix, scored 38 points on 14-of-22 shooting Tuesday when the fourth-seeded Suns evened the series with a 123-109 victory. He made four 3-pointers and added nine assists.
Durant, playing his 10th game as Booker’s teammate, was content to be the side attraction, scoring 25 points.
“He’s an all-around player,” Durant said of Booker. “He can do everything at an elite level on a basketball court.”
Phoenix is 9-1 when Durant has played since being acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in February. The loss came in Game 1 of the postseason when the Clippers posted a 115-110 victory.
Booker scored 26 points in the series opener.
The fifth-seeded Clippers attempted to disguise defensive tactics in Game 1, and it worked when the Suns went 6 of 19 from 3-point range and shot 47.6 percent overall.
But Booker said there was better recognition on Tuesday when Los Angeles was switching things up on nearly every possession. The shooting bears it out as Phoenix hit a scintillating 58.8 percent from the field, including 10 of 24 from behind the arc.
“I think when they do that, we just have to simplify it,” Booker said. “A lot of things that we haven’t seen before, but they have a veteran team that can do it on the fly. … So when they’re doing that, just simplify it for us.”
Torrey Craig made it look simple for the Suns by knocking down five 3-pointers en route to 17 points.
One issue for the Suns is the condition of veteran point guard Chris Paul, who underwent X-rays on his right hand after Tuesday’s game. The X-rays were negative, and he wasn’t listed on the Wednesday injury report.
Phoenix backup point guard Cameron Payne (lower back) has yet to play in the series, he is considered questionable to see action in Game 3.
Los Angeles’ last points in Game 2 came with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter before Phoenix scored the final eight points.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue wasn’t dismayed, as he said he believes his team is on equal footing with the Suns despite not having star forward Paul George (knee), who will be out again on Thursday.
“We think we can win this series, and so that’s the biggest thing,” Lue said. “One hundred percent of the battle is believing, and we believe we can do it.”
And at least in Game 3, the Clippers will need to move forward without their other star forward, Kawhi Leonard, who will sit out with a sprained knee.
He scored 38 points in Game 1 and followed up with 31 in Game 2. Leonard was 3 of 5 from 3-point range in both games.
Russell Westbrook, who made a stellar late-game defensive play in Game 1 to protect a Clippers victory, scored 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting in Game 2. He had just nine points on 3-of-19 shooting in the opener.
Westbrook said the Los Angeles defense had some lapses in Game 2.
“A lot of them (Tuesday) were wide open that we didn’t get a chance to contest them,” Westbrook said. “If they’re shooting, that’s fine, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re contesting and making sure we’re in the vision to make those a little more tougher than normal.”
Leonard is a two-time NBA champion, winning with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors. It’s going to be up to Westbrook, who is looking for his first title, to provide veteran leadership on Thursday.
Leonard was impressed by what he saw his teammate do in Game 1.
“Making winning plays, getting deflections, offensive rebounding … it’s playoff basketball,” Leonard said. “You might not have your best night shooting, but you gotta impact the game some type of way. He did that.”
–Field Level Media