EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s tremendous form to start season rolls Suns past Clippers

Oct 23, 2022, 9:57 PM | Updated: Oct 24, 2022, 9:43 am
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker dunks against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker dunks against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Devin Booker’s game took a big step forward last season for the Phoenix Suns and it looks like he’s ready for another one.

Coming off a First Team All-NBA selection and a finish of fourth in MVP voting, Booker is in form already for the 2022-23 season, with three straight games of elite play and the latest coming in Sunday’s 112-95 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Booker is now shooting a ridiculous 34-for-64 (53.1%) from the field in three contests with 96 total points.

Part of Booker’s ascent is him putting his fingerprints on the game early a lot more directly by more or less smacking it in the face in the first quarter to imprint them. He had his first real “Book got it going” of the season with 14 of his 35 points in the opening 12 minutes for a 15-point lead.

As usual, Booker was doing all this while fitting right in with everyone else during a great team effort defensively. The Clippers came into the game half-asleep on the second game of a back-to-back, sleepwalking through their iso ball and lack of movement to meh shot selection that got even worse because of how Phoenix (2-1) was hounding them.

Those tone-setting beginnings to games for Booker seem more often than not to free up his teammates, and it was one of those nights when every player in purple and orange was positively contributing.

That was headed by backup center Jock Landale, who had an outstanding stretch in the second quarter that blew the game open.

The Clippers (2-1) went to their usual five-out small lineup, and given Landale’s high activity level against their low energy, he was a problem.

Landale was everywhere, and that’s where you started to see the vision for a second unit that brought some dread upon the fanbase in its first two outings. It helped that Cam Johnson was able to avoid the locker room for an injury the whole game and that Landry Shamet made his debut.

Landale shared the floor with Chris Paul, Shamet, Damion Lee and Johnson. While Paul is the only true on-ball threat to score, if the Suns play their brand of basketball through quick passing and slashing attacks of the rim, everything will flow because of the shooting on the floor. The pressure Landale’s motor put on the Clippers offense was the threat forcing Los Angeles’ defense off-balance. Once that was set, the Suns rolled.

Landale was +14 in those nine minutes and the Suns led by 20 at halftime after all 10 of the players who got in there scored a field goal.

Los Angeles awoke from its slumber to open the second half, with Kawhi Leonard opening as a starter instead of coming off the bench as he did in the first half. The Suns, though, endured it, and wearing that first real punch on the chin was enough to see the Clippers fade.

Landale’s nine points and 10 rebounds had him join Deandre Ayton (13), Johnson (11), Cam Payne (10), Torrey Craig (8), Mikal Bridges (8), Shamet (8) and Paul (7) as the few points here and there the Suns could jumble up together with Booker’s big night to provide enough offense for a definitive win.

Payne and Shamet, in particular, made a handful of plays and both did their part as two-way influences on the game. Craig snagged nine rebounds in 25 minutes of a matchup he normally fares well with and showed his value as well.

Paul added 11 assists and eight rebounds to go with his seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. That’s now a total of 23 points for Paul to start the year, but for those quick to forget, he has notoriously been a slow starter in Phoenix as a scorer.

Across Phoenix’s 8-8 start two years ago, Paul broke the plane of a dozen points in just nine of those games. And for last season’s 1-3 kickoff, Paul followed scoring outings of 15 and 23 points with four and six. It is not a sign of his decline but Paul does need to break the habit of turning down decent looks from 3 and overpassing. Even though he was 1-of-8 from deep, Paul’s indecision directly contradicts the 0.5 philosophy of the offense. If he’s going to continue not taking all of them, more aggressive attacking of incoming closeouts should be on the menu.

The Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr. continued his proclivity for putting up numbers against his former ball club with a team-high 22 points. John Wall added 17 points and Paul George contributed another 16 but Los Angeles’ terrific depth certainly did not come to fruition in this one.

Keep an eye on how the Suns are hucking up 3s. They got to 42 attempts on Sunday with a great 15 from the corners after a total of 49 in the first two games. Phoenix should lean into this bit of a shot profile more this year with Johnson in the starting lineup and Paul off the ball more, where the Point God has historically always been efficient in catch-and-shoot scenarios.

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