In today’s NBA news, Devin Booker makes a statement in closing out the Clippers, and some shocking behind-the-scenes details emerge on Twitter.
With his unbelievable shot-making against the Bucks, Jimmy Butler might be the frontrunner for a hypothetical “MVP of the First Round of the NBA Playoffs.” But with his 47-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound masterpiece to eliminate the Clippers, Devin Booker is proving to be as indispensable as any other star right now.
Devin Booker isn’t just scoring
Scoring has always been the most obvious part of Booker’s package of skills and he certainly delivered in this series — 37.2 points per game on 60.2/46.7/85.7 shooting splits. He was driving with much more regularity than he did during the regular season, aggressively assuming primacy and looking to create his own shot — even with Chris Paul and Kevin Durant on the floor.
But this series was also a stark reminder of just how far Booker has come as a creator for his teammates, seeing the floor and using his offensive gravity to create openings for others. Watch here as he casually dribbles sideways, drawing two defenders and waiting for Norman Powell to drift toward Landry Shamet at the top of the key before rifling the one-handed laser to Kevin Durant in the opposite corner.
Or how he freezes Powell with a sideways glance at Shamet here, before finding Bismack Biyombo for the wide-open dunk.
Having Durant on the floor as a finisher and another draw on the defense undoubtedly makes things easier for Booker. But he’s making things easier on Durant as well — Booker assisted him 13 times in this series, nearly a third of all Durant’s made baskets.
As impressive as Booker’s passing and offensive control were, his defensive effort and execution in this series might be the most important factor in the Suns’ championship hopes. Booker racked up 16 deflections in five games (Chris Paul and Anthony Edwards are the only players with more in the first round), along with five blocks and 13 steals. He was repeatedly able to turn deep drives by the Clippers into turnovers and transition opportunities going the other way.
The Clippers weren’t shy about targeting Booker, letting Russell Westbrook attack him off the dribble or in post-ups. According to the NBA’s play-type stats, Booker was the primary defender for 15 post-ups and 19 isolations, more than any other player in any first-round series. On those 34 plays, he surrendered just 27 points, forcing four turnovers and allowing opponents to shoot just 11-of-27. These stats are a bit noisy — they only include defensive possessions where he was in that scenario and the player he was defending attempted a shot, drew a foul or turned the ball over. But they certainly matched what we saw with the eye test and if we include possessions where he forced a pass instead of a shot attempt, he’d likely look even better.
The Suns have a stiff challenge in front of them with the Nuggets. Booker likely needs to continue scoring and creating at a high level to pressure Denver’s defense and he’ll be asked to do a lot of it against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown, better defenders than anyone besides Kawhi he saw in the first round. He may also have so spend a significant amount of energy at the defensive end, taking at least some responsibility for Jamal Murray, who is also on a bit of a heater.
All that is to say, the level of difficulty is ramping up but what we’ve seen from Devin Booker so far this postseason indicates he’s ready for anything.
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Someone goes viral, spilling all the tea from a chaotic Clippers season
So far this morning, the main character on Twitter is @clipperscontent, an apparently credentialed media member who decided to burn every bridge with a lengthy thread detailing all the behind-the-scenes dirt on the Clippers this year. Among the allegations in the thread:
- Kawhi Leonard twice pretended to be injured to remove himself from games just because he didn’t want to play
- Ty Lue hates the front office and the front office hates Ty Lue. The players also hate Ty Lue.
- Marcus Morris requested to be made a starter or traded. The front office refused on both accounts and he essentially left the team for two weeks out of frustration.
- Reggie Jackson was widely disliked by his teammates, part of the reason he was traded.
- The front office requested Ty Lue play more defensive-minded lineups, he responded by intentionally leaning into small lineups with three and four guards, even though it was the opposite of what he had been asked to do.
- Norman Powell was almost traded to Memphis instead of Luke Kennard to make more room for Eric Gordon.
- The PR staff was incredibly mercurial, issuing bans to media members for opaque “rule” violations and trying to implement their own rules and procedures in visiting arenas.
As of right now, none of this has really been verified and it’s not clear if @clipperscontent was, as they claim, an anonymous account for credentialed media member this season or just a troll getting some shots up. But it’s a well-established account, with more than 4k followers that has been Tweeting about the Clippers throughout the season. And at least some of the background here tracks — Jake Fischer reported late last month that Ty Lue might want to leave, both the Jackson and Kennard trades seemed a bit surprising and this clearly wasn’t a team that was enjoying themselves this season.
For now, take it all with a massive spoonful of salt, but keep an eye on potential supporting reports or secondary indicators like Lue or some of the other veterans looking for a way out this summer.
Today’s NBA Trivia:
With last night’s win, Devin Booker moved into 10th on the Suns’ all-time playoff-scoring leaderboard. How many of the nine players ahead of him can you name?
The answer for yesterday’s trivia question: Jimmy Butler became the first player in Miami Heat franchise history to score 50 or more in a playoff game. The 11 other Heat players who have managed 30 or more in a playoff game are — Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Damon Jones, Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Shaquille O’Neal, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng.