PHOENIX (AP) — Kevin Durant is the shiny new toy for the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker is still the team’s heart and soul.
Booker — the three-time All-Star who has spent all eight of his NBA seasons in Phoenix — scored 38 points, Durant added 25 and the Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers 123-109 on Tuesday night in Game 2 to tie the Western Conference first-round series.
“He’s an all-around player,” Durant said about Booker. “He can do everything at an elite level on a basketball court.”
The Suns needed a gritty effort after a disappointing loss in Game 1. Their shots weren’t falling for much of the first half and they fell into a 13-point hole midway through the second quarter.
But led by Booker, they never panicked.
The 26-year-old drilled a 3 just before the halftime buzzer to tie it and scored 18 points in the third quarter on 7-of-8 shooting, helping the Suns push to a 92-87 advantage entering the fourth. The defense also improved after the Clippers got several easy baskets in the second quarter.
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“People talk about adjustments all the time and we make them,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But sometimes basketball is just being able to sit down and guard the ball, keep your man from getting to the basket and contesting the shot.”
Phoenix never trailed in the final quarter, slowly pulling away. It was their first playoff win with Durant on the floor. The team was 8-0 during the regular season with the 13-time All-Star following his trade from the Brooklyn Nets in February.
The series moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Thursday night.
Kawhi Leonard led Los Angeles with 31 points after he scored 38 in Game 1. Russell Westbrook added 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
“We know it is going to be a tough series,” Westbrook said. “They came back and took care of business tonight.”
Booker had a stellar shooting night, connecting on 14 of 22 shots, including 4 of 7 on 3s. He added nine assists. Deandre Ayton added 14 points — on 7-of-10 shooting— and 13 rebounds. Torrey Craig hit 5 of 8 3s and had 17 points, and Chris Paul had 16 points and eight assists.
“We tried to blitz. We tried to fire. We did a lot of different things,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “They played great.”
Paul’s archnemesis was carrying a whistle Tuesday, not dribbling a basketball.
The point guard had his personal 13-game playoff losing streak snapped when referee Scott Foster is on the floor. The long-running feud has lasted years with Paul criticizing Foster multiple times.
“I didn’t notice,” Paul said. “I think we’re all about, in this run, minimizing distractions. That is what it is, I’m sure it’ll still be a thing.”
Several Suns players credited the Clippers coaches and players for their unpredictable defensive sets, which they said was part of the reason for the team’s slow start.
“They switched their defense up like every possession,” Durant said. “They might double, they might triple, they might go zone, they might go full court press. So they’re trying to throw us off with their coverages. I think we did a good job of (eventually) figuring it out. Just playing simple.”
Clippers: Eight-time All-Star Paul George (sprained knee) hasn’t played since March 21. … L.A.’s bench outscored Phoenix’s 30-13. … Leonard shot 11 of 20 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Suns: G Cam Payne (low back soreness) hasn’t played yet in the series. Said coach Monty Williams “He’s just not ready. He’s done a lot more on the floor, but there’s certain movements he can’t do yet without pain.” … Hosted a 76th consecutive sellout, combining regular season and playoff games.
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