After putting away the Utah Jazz on Friday night in Game 6, the Clippers headed to Phoenix on Sunday for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against a well rested Suns team. Both squads were down a superstar, as Kawhi Leonard continues to miss time with a knee sprain and Chris Paul finds himself still in COVID-19 protocols at the worst possible time.
That meant all eyes were on their star teammates to step up in a big spot, and both Devin Booker and Paul George delivered for their teams on Sunday afternoon. In the end, Booker and the Suns came out ahead in a 120-114 victory that has everyone hoping for six more games like what we saw on Sunday in what was a game of punches and counterpunches, with both All-Stars putting on a shot-making exhibition.
Booker got his first career triple-double on Sunday, taking over as a scorer and playmaker in Paul’s absence, scoring 40 points on 15-of-29 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Booker did much of his scoring damage in the third quarter, dropping 18 on the Clippers as he abused the drop coverage they kept showing him with Ivica Zubac in the pick-and-roll game, with Patrick Beverley picking up way too high and being in no place to recover and really bother Booker. Like Chris Paul did in Game 4 to close out the Nuggets, Booker went to the same play and the same spot over and over again, scoring at one point 16 straight for the Suns, mostly in the midrange.
D-Book (40 PTS, 13 REB, 11 AST) dominated Game 1 🔥 pic.twitter.com/VtoH9LD0UE
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 20, 2021
Paul George nearly matched Booker shot for shot in the third, scoring 14 of his own as he got hot from long-range, finishing with 34 points on 10-of-26 shooting, five assists, and four rebounds.
In the fourth quarter it was more of the same early for Booker, as George went to the bench for a rest and the Suns pounced on the L.A. bench, this time going to his right to force the Clippers to change up their coverage.
9:05 to play in Game 1 on ABC pic.twitter.com/ag81wdeWD8
— NBA (@NBA) June 20, 2021
When they did and sent more bodies at him, he started to facilitate in the halfcourt and on the break, with his 10th assist coming in spectacular fashion on a give-and-go with Mikal Bridges for what felt like the early dagger.
PHX up 7 with 2:15 left on ABC pic.twitter.com/C8TMGTswvL
— NBA (@NBA) June 20, 2021
The Clippers made a valiant effort at a late rally, with Rajon Rondo and Terance Mann hitting threes to cut the Phoenix lead to two.
But once again Booker had the answer, slipping free for a dunk to push the lead to four and then icing the game with free throws after a Nic Batum missed three on the ensuing Clippers possession. Also stepping up for the Suns was Deandre Ayton, as he has all postseason, with 20 points and nine rebounds, helping the Suns punish the L.A. small-ball lineups in key moments by attacking the rim.
All five Suns starters hit double figures, along with Cam Johnson with 12 points off the bench, as they played a simply magnificent game start to finish. The Clippers were excellent as well. Reggie Jackson once again gave them a needed lift with backcourt scoring with 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting, and DeMarcus Cousins provided a surprising boost off the bench in the first half with 11 points — although this second stint was far less impactful.
With space and time. 👌🏾
Reggie is up to 20 points, including four threes, with three minutes left in the third. pic.twitter.com/nDbG4UuVy2
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 20, 2021
In the end, the Suns had more juice, more legs, and the better superstar for the night. George couldn’t score at the same rate in the fourth quarter and without his steady input, and the rest of the Clippers going cold for much of the quarter from three, things slipped away to a point where their late rally was just too little too late. It’s a huge confidence booster for a Suns team that is riding an incredible wave right now from their first two series wins, and has been incredibly composed in key moments, led by their young superstar in Booker. Game 2 will come on Tuesday night and after an instant classic in Game 1, it’s hard not to be excited for the possibility of another banger in Phoenix.