Phoenix Suns embracing ‘football-style’ week of prep for Clippers

Apr 13, 2023, 4:42 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns and Mason Plumlee #44 of the LA Clippers dive for a loose ball ...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns and Mason Plumlee #44 of the LA Clippers dive for a loose ball during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on February 16, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Clippers defeated the Suns 116-107. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ “cycle” as Monty Williams described it as on Thursday is pretty much the same.

They are getting acclimated to the style of playoff basketball coming their way and a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. But in terms of preparation and studying, that doesn’t change. Just more of it in different ways.

Phoenix is entering its third straight postseason with Williams and this is the seventh playoff series already for his Suns. While the blockbuster mid-season trade of Kevin Durant certainly shook things up and sent key players to Brooklyn, the big pieces at the top are still present in Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.

One of those series, of course, was the 2021 Western Conference Finals against those Clippers. A lot has changed about both sides, as you’d expect over a two-year timeframe.

The only player in the top five of minutes played for Los Angeles from that series that will 100% play is Terance Mann. Paul George’s status with his knee is up in the air and it’s the same case for Marcus Morris Sr., who was moved out of the starting lineup in the last few weeks and could be out of the rotation all-together. The other two names, Patrick Beverley and Reggie Jackson, are now on different teams.

Some dynamics, however, will still remain consistent thanks to Williams and Clippers head coach Ty Lue both still being in the fold. The core DNA within how the games feel is going to be quite similar, I bet.

Here’s what Williams had to say on this Thursday.

“We hadn’t thought much about it as far as diagnosing it,” Williams said. “I do remember them playing more zone, and in particular, 2-3 zone. That was something that they did which we’ve talked about a little bit but now they’re playing a 3-2 zone so it’s a little bit different. That team was different. They had Reggie, and now they have [Russell Westbrook], so those are two different point guards.

“Russ is getting the ball and he is flying down the floor in transition, whereas Reggie was more of a set-up, half-court guy and spotted up and knocked down 3s.”

Williams took the route of his response to that question with how to use it as a study tool while Booker’s first moment that comes to mind is pretty obvious.

“Ummm. Broken nose,” Booker said with a laugh, referring to his Game 2 injury that forced him to play in a mask for the majority of the series’s remaining games.

He then highlighted how winning the Western Conference was a big-time example of learning in his first postseason what gets it done.

“Was a fun one, man. That’s a product of the details matter,” Booker said. “I think we stole Game 2 that year. It’s different 1-1, 2-0 — everybody knows it, it’s a whole different ball game. Being able to get that lob. Chris out to start the series with COVID. It just shows you that you never know what to expect in the playoffs. They play really good basketball and ended up switching a lot of things 1-5. It’s gonna be fun matching up against them again.”

One difference Booker noted is that this was a football-style level of prep Phoenix could now do with even more detail. The benefit of knowing its opponent a full week ahead was not one it was granted in the last two postseasons thanks to holding a top-two seed and having to wait on the results of the play-in tournament.

Williams brought up an example of how the Suns can run through some things, go through a full feedback process with the players and then reasses from there. The previous two-or-three-day window did not allow for that.

The biggest change for the Suns is Durant. Labeling him as one of the best players of all time should also come with “postseason” in-between “best” and “players.”

As a fan of Durant growing up, Booker is aware of all the accolades and moments. He even referenced Durant’s shot from that 2021 postseason when the forward’s toes were just on the 3-point line to deny the Brooklyn Nets a game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals versus the Milwaukee Bucks. It instead goes to an overtime the Bucks win, and they go on to win the 2021 NBA Finals over the Suns. Imagine if we had gotten Booker vs. Durant. Whew.

Now imagine them on the same team!

Hard to believe, right?

“Yeah. It’s never something I would have expected and couldn’t of even dreamed it but it’s here now,” Booker said. “I think that adds a little bit of pressure to everybody knowing that you have somebody that’s been there and finished it and that’s the expectation.”

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