The hour comes, comes the man. There can’t be better opportunities to save your first triple-double. Timing, as they say, is everything.
With Chris Paul missing Game 1 – he’s still in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols – it was up to Devin Booker to lead the Phoenix Suns in his first appearance in the conference finals.
And he did, to the tune of 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 triple-double assists, more than enough flamethrower midrange score, selfless play and overall field dominance to make up for it. lack of weight from Point God.
It’s easy to forget that this is the 24-year-old’s first run under the bright lights of the NBA playoffs, where careers and reputations are so often forged or broken. Booker seems to belong here, as does his accomplice: the force of nature Deandre Ayton.
The Suns big man had 20 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists, perhaps pale from Booker’s star turn, but was a nightmare for the Los Angeles Clippers. Their big guys, including bulldozer DeMarcus Cousins (11 points in his first five minutes, scoreless after that) and more subtle Ivica Zubac (9 points, 3 rebounds) were no match for their younger counterpart, faster and stronger.
It also meant that when the Suns sparkled the ball around the perimeter it left two of the Clippers’ most leaden players trying to close in the corner – a recipe for disaster against such good shooters. Head coach Ty Lue’s best bet was to go small with Nicolas Batum in the middle, but even that had its downsides, as Ayton made his way through the paint for seemingly endless rocking dunks.
Los Angeles Clippers
To their credit, the Clippers took Phoenix all the way, while Paul George once again lived up to his “Playoff P” bill. Without Kawhi Leonard by his side, absent for the foreseeable future with a knee injury, George scored 34 points overnight. Reggie Jackson, continuing his fine playoff form, has proven to be a worthy sidekick, with himself 24 years old including a number of timely buckets to stop Phoenix in their tracks.
In the end, it was Booker who made the difference, scoring 16 straight points in the third quarter to blow up the roof of the Phoenix Suns Arena just as it looked like George and the Clippers were taking over.
He was 29 in the second half and it was fitting that his hands catch the rebound of the clutch to seal things off after Batum’s Desperation passed three at 118-114 with a few seconds remaining.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Booker would hit both free throws to raise his 40 and make it 120-114 at the horn. In doing so, he becomes the first Sun with a 40-point playoff triple-double since Charles Barkley, and the first with a triple-double since Steve Nash. Not bad in company.
Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night in Phoenix and judging from this opening game, we’ve got a hell of a streak in our hands, even if it’s just Booker and George to fight again.