Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker takes the spotlight.
Context: Devin Booker picked quite the time to record his first career triple-double.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Booker led the Chris Paul-less Suns to a victory over the Kawhi Leonard-less LA Clippers with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, doing so on 15-for-29 shooting from the field. In addition to being the first triple-double of Booker's career, it's the first 40-point triple-double by a Suns player in nearly 30 years.
The last player to mess around and get a 40-point triple-double in a Suns uniform? Charles Barkley in 1993.
The Clippers didn't have an answer for Booker all game long, but there was one particular way he picked them apart.
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: E'Twaun Moore brings the ball up the right side of the court following a pair of free throws from Paul George.
It looks like Moore wants to give the ball to Booker, who receives a screen from Deandre Ayton on the opposite side of the court, but Terance Mann does a nice job of getting around Ayton's screen and not letting Booker get open.
In response, Moore dribbles to the left side and gives it up to Ayton, who is a couple of feet behind the 3-point line.
Mann is still pressuring Booker but loses sight of him for a split second, which opens up a pass from Ayton.
With the ball now in Booker's hands, Ayton moves towards him to run a pick-and-roll with 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Booker doesn't use Ayton's screen, choosing to reject it instead.
This is where things get interesting.
With Serge Ibaka being out for the rest of the season and Ivica Zubac struggling, the Clippers have gone all-in on playing small in these playoffs. That's why Marcus Morris, a 6-foot-8 forward, is the one guarding Ayton, a 6-foot-11 center.
The Clippers were able to give Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz trouble in the previous round by going small and basically switching everything, but they don't switch on this pick-and-roll between Booker and Ayton. Rather, they play a drop coverage, having Mann fight over Ayton's screen while Morris drops back to protect the paint.
It doesn't look like Booker has much space to do anything...
...but Morris recovers to Ayton so that he's not left alone underneath the basket.
With Marris out of the picture and Mann on his hip, Booker rises up for a silky smooth jumper.
Why it matters: For a few reasons.
One, it's a move straight out of Chris Paul's playbook. Paul isn't the only player in the league who has mastered the art of putting his defender in jail, but he might be the best at it.
When I see Booker do stuff like this:
I get the feeling that he's picked up a thing or two from Paul over the last eight months.
Two, this was two of 24 points Booker scored against LA's drop coverage in Game 1. (You read that right - Booker scored more than half of his points against it).
Booker got Morris again a few minutes later in the second quarter.
He then went at Zubac in the third quarter.
Followed by DeMarcus Cousins in the fourth quarter.
It's funny, because after Game 3 of Phoenix's second-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets, I wrote about how Paul will pick your drop coverage apart. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was a reminder that Booker will as well.
Get this: Booker (6.7) didn't score quite as much as Paul (7.7) did out of the pick-and-roll during the regular season, but he was slightly more efficient. Whereas Paul ranked in the 79th percentile with 0.99 points per possession, Booker ranked in the 84th percentile with an average of 1.02 points per possession. Paul had the edge over Booker as a midrange shooter, but not by much. According to NBA.com, Paul (197), Julius Randle (171) and Brandon Ingram (169) were the only players in the league to make more shots than Booker (168) from midrange during the regular season. Not only that, but Booker converted them at a 48.6 percent clip, which was one of the better rates in the league.
Booker clearly had it rolling in Game 1 - he made 13 shots off the dribble, the most by a player since Second Spectrum began tracking in 2013-14 - but he's been torching teams from midrange all season long.
Three, it goes to show how difficult this Suns team is to defend.
Once again, this looks like it's going to be a tough series for LA's centers, as Phoenix has two players in Paul and Booker who will attack them relentlessly in pick-and-rolls. The issue is that the Suns are also better equipped to handle a lot of the things the Jazz had no answer for in the second round, even without Paul.
You know how Morris was dropping instead of switching? That might change moving forward - assuming, of course, that Morris won't be limited - but Ayton is more comfortable attacking mismatches in the post than Gobert is.
Another option is to trap Booker more, but the Suns have two capable passers out of the short roll in Ayton and Dario Saric.
So ... what is the answer? If there's one thing we learned about the Clippers in the first and second round of these playoffs, it's that they like to ease their way into a series and that they're not afraid to mix things up. There's no doubt that they will come into Game 2 with adjustments, but Booker's play in Game 1 and the pending return of Paul sure gives them a lot to think about.
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