If Game 1 was any indication of how the 2021 Western Conference Finals is going to go, we're in for a wildly entertaining series.
Despite missing some star power with Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard out for their respective teams, superstars Devin Booker and Paul George made sure that void was filled.
The Phoenix Suns were able to fight off the LA Clippers to take Game 1 behind a 40-point triple-double from Booker. Phoenix needed all it could get from its All-Star guard, as LA's George was just as terrific with 34 points of his own.
For more on a thrilling series-opener, we have you covered with some takeaways below.
1. Devin Booker is built for the moment
Booker scored a combined 62 points in Games 3 and 4 to close out the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals and his rhythm was not altered by any means during the week off while waiting for the Clippers-Utah Jazz series to wrap up.
Booker was automatic in this one. Every single shot he put up felt like it was going to go down, putting on a midrange clinic that would have made his absent teammate CP3 proud.
And it wasn't just scoring, either. The 24-year-old erupted for the first triple-double of his career, going for 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while shooting an efficient 15-for-29 from the field, 3-for-7 from 3 and 7-for-7 from the charity stripe.
D-Book (40 PTS, 13 REB, 11 AST) dominated Game 1 🔥 pic.twitter.com/VtoH9LD0UE- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 20, 2021
He is only the third player in NBA history to have a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs before turning 25 years old, joining Oscar Robertson (x2) and Luka Doncic. His triple-double was also only the sixth in Suns' franchise history, joining all-time greats like Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway.
Now with six games of 30-plus points this postseason, he only trails Hall of Famer Barkley's record of eight games with 30-plus points (1993) for the most in Suns' franchise history.
2. Paul George answers the call again
Once it was announced that Leonard would be out indefinitely, all eyes shifted to All-Star forward George to be "the guy."
He stepped up in a big way to advance the Clippers to the first Western Conference Finals in franchise history and he didn't shy away from the bright lights once he got there.
George had the hot hand from the get-go, scoring a game-high 17 points in the first half to keep the Clippers within striking distance. The third quarter is where the seven-time All-Star really caught fire, scoring 15 points in the frame alone.
Creatin' space... SPLASH. 👌🏾 pic.twitter.com/7RUCfspZcw- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 20, 2021
He would cool off in the fourth quarter, only scoring one single point on 0-for-5 shooting from the field, but that doesn't take away from the performance George had the entire game. Without his efforts, the Clippers would have never even been in a position to win the game.
George finished with a team-high 34 points to go with five assists, four boards and two steals while knocking down seven 3-pointers.
3. Deandre Ayton continues to assert his dominance
Ayton has enjoyed a breakout postseason to this point and the Western Conference Finals stage did not change that.
The 22-year-old centre was unstoppable in the first half, terrorizing the Clippers' small-ball lineup to the tune of 14 points and four rebounds on continued efficient shooting of 7-for-8 from the field to give the Suns a halftime lead.
With Marcus Morris remaining in the locker room, treating a knee injury for the start of the second half, head coach Ty Lue was forced to try and match up big man Ivica Zubac to try and contain Ayton. Once it was quickly realized that would mean hunting season for Booker, the Clippers were forced to go small once again with Ayton cleaning up inside.
Ayton would finish the game with 20 points, nine rebounds and two assists while shooting 10-for-14 from the field.
The mismatch that Ayton presents could end up deciding the series between these two teams.
4. Third quarter "bucket bonanza"
To quote the great Mike Breen himself, the third quarter was a "bucket bonanza."
Booker and George put on an absolutely ridiculous shot-making display in the third frame, trading bucket after bucket to keep the contest close.
George went off for 15 points while shooting 5-for-10 from the field and 4-for-7 from long range...
Smooth. pic.twitter.com/B0sKdU89Cr- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 20, 2021
...but Booker had every answer, going ballistic for 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, including a stretch of 16-straight points for the Suns.
DEVIN BOOKER IS TAKING OVER 🔥- ESPN (@espn) June 20, 2021
18 points in the third quarter alone 😳 pic.twitter.com/iwBaRuRsLP
The Clippers would outscore the Suns by three points in the quarter, covering the deficit from halftime to enter the fourth quarter all tied at 93 apiece.
5. Cameron Payne starts for Chris Paul, Terance Mann starts for Kawhi Leonard
Both the Suns and Clippers are missing All-Stars to begin this series, as Paul is still in the league's health and safety protocols and Leonard did not travel with the team to Phoenix for the first two games, remaining in Los Angeles to rehab his knee injury.
Suns head coach Monty Williams elected to start Cameron Payne in place of Paul, while Clippers head coach Ty Lue went with Western Conference Semifinals Game 6 hero Terance Mann in place of Leonard.
Neither decision should have caught anyone by surprise, as it was the move expected from each side.
Payne continued to step up for Phoenix as he has all postseason, dishing out a team-high six assists in the first half while scoring and assisting on 19 of the Suns' 57 points in the first half. His playing time would diminish in the slightest in the second half with Booker moving to point guard, but Payne still finished with a crucial 11 points, nine assists, three rebounds, one steal and one block in Paul's absence.
Mann got out to a much slower start than the last time he was on the floor, only tallying three points in the first half. He would remain one of LA's most important players in this game, with coach Lue trusting him to close things out down the stretch. Mann would finish nine points going 3-for-3 from 3, including a huge shot in the final seconds to keep the Clippers' chances alive, although they would still come up short.
6. What's next?
The Suns and Clippers will face off for Game 2 in Phoenix on Tuesday, June 22nd at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.
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