Suns can expect Clippers to change pickup point vs. Devin Booker

Jun 22, 2021, 11:53 AM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Rajon Rondo #4 of the LA Clippers duri...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Rajon Rondo #4 of the LA Clippers during the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on April 28, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Clippers 109-101. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When it comes to stopping Devin Booker, the Los Angeles Clippers have one easy fix for Game 2 against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

Executing out of that is the challenge.

“I think picking Devin Booker up too high up the floor gave him too much real estate to attack downhill,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said Monday. “I understand our guards tried to get to him and apply some pressure, but they were setting screens out toward halfcourt, which puts our bigs in a tough situation when he’s coming downhill at you full speed.

“We have to do a better job at our pickup point.”

In other words, Lue didn’t like the over-aggressiveness on Booker, who scored 40 points and added 11 assists while shooting 15-of-29 from the floor Sunday in a Game 1 Phoenix win.

While pressuring Booker at halfcourt might lead to mistimed set plays, the Suns in the second half of Game 1 instead allowed him to freelance off those early pickup points.

He called for screens, looped around his screen-setters and by the time he reached the mid-range against a dropping defense, fired away from his mid-range spots on the elbows.

Even in the halfcourt, sending blatant double-teams allowed Booker to swing the ball and attack Los Angeles’ rotations.

“I thought they did a good job of just picking our defense apart for the most part,” Lue said. “We made some mistakes, but like I said, Devin Booker did a great job of knowing what play he wanted to make when we fired at him to try to double-team.

“When we blitzed the pick-and-roll, they know exactly where their guys wanted to be, and they put us in some tough positions. They did a good job of executing their gameplan offensively.”

Lue said the Clippers need to treat Booker differently than the other perimeter scorers that Los Angeles has seen so far during these playoffs. The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell are more apt to pull up from three than Booker.

“I mean, with Luka and Donovan, you have to be up at the level of the screen,” Clippers center Ivica Zubac said. “With the guys who like mid-range more, you don’t have to be that high up. That’s really a big difference for me when guarding the pick-and-roll.”

The Clippers want their defenders’ heels more at the three-point arc. That will force the Suns to set screens closer to the paint, effectively shrinking the floor and allowing Los Angeles’ defenders to cover less space.

For the Suns, perhaps that presents new opportunities for Booker to get past the Clippers’ big men’s hips or for him to hit center Deandre Ayton on rolls straight out of the pick-and-roll. The latter wasn’t done in Game 1 as Ayton found most of his points off weakside cutting.

That, or the new pick-up point allows him to fire away from three, where he’s shooting 38.2% this postseason, which is a 4.2% increase from the regular season.

“Like I said, first game with Terance Mann, with Pat Beverley, they want to be aggressive and pick him up and make him work, but he ended up hurting us in the long run,” Lue said. “So we have to do a better job with that.”

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Suns can expect Clippers to change pickup point vs. Devin Booker