USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Booker’s evolution boosts Suns

- Duane Rankin and Greg Moore

LOS ANGELES – The Phoenix Suns were having to grind it out against a team that’s missing its two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

It shouldn’t be this hard against the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers, but Devin Booker said after losing Game 1 in this series, “It’s not going to be easy.”

The Clippers were battling the Suns by attacking the paint, playing aggressive and being relentless.

Terance Mann was smiling while Kevin Durant was scowling over the contact.

Clippers coach Ty Lue was digging deeper and deeper into his bag of defensive playbook.

Norman Powell had a monster Game 3 with a career playoff-high 42 points, and Russell Westbrook was playing with a level of ferocity and productivi­ty that’s bringing him renewed respect and appreciati­on.

Still, the Suns simply have the better team with the top two players in the series and a third option in Chris Paul, who delivered in the fourth quarter of a 112100 Game 4 victory at Arena.

Kevin Durant and Booker combined for 61 points, and Paul scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth.

The Suns were the favorites to win this series even with a healthy Leonard, but now he’s missed the last two games and Phoenix was up 3-1 at press time.

Better yet, Playmaker Booker

Now they have Durant, who can get his shot whenever and find people, but Booker has the ball a great deal of the time — and Paul, who is third all time in assists, is playing more off the ball.

Can you hear any complaints about Booker running the offense?

Take a minute to make sure now. Didn’t think so.

Booker knows the system inside and out and is verbalizin­g it with confidence and authority.

Before one possession in the second half of Game 4, Booker was pointing everyone to their spots and yelling out signals like a police officer directing rush hour traffic in New York City.

Durant called Booker a bigger point guard. Landry Shamet says he’s calling the plays before Williams.

Now, Booker can still be turnover prone. He had four April 22, but none

April 20 in 45 minutes and he’s averaged eight assists in Phoenix’s two doubledigi­t victories in this series.

No one really says Point Book anymore because it’s no longer an experiment.

Playmaker Book is more appropriat­e. He’s making it happen for himself and his teammates.

More from Durant?

Durant admitted April 20 he came into the league with his “foot on the gas to score” when talking about his evolution at as a playmaker.

He tied a career playoff high with 11 assists in Game 1 and has had timely dimes in this series.

He’s still looking to find Deandre Ayton, even though Ayton’s hands have been unreliable of late.

Eventually, Kevin Durant is going to be Kevin Durant.

He didn’t need to be in the Suns’ Game 4 win over the Clippers.

Durant continued to be more energy efficient than a home with new insulation and windows, scoring 31 points on just 17 shots.

But no one should forget that this guy can be the hottest thing smoking when he decides to.

Durant is a four-time scoring champ with 14 40-point playoff games in his career.

It’s been huge that the Suns have been able to win without him going into takeover mode, because there’s going to come a game where Phoenix will need him to light up the scoreboard.

If Durant had to carry the bulk of the offensive load for the entire series, he’d eventually run out of steam.

As it stands, Durant has been able to get active rest, scoring the ball when it makes sense and making easy money the rest of the time.

But eventually, Kevin Durant is going to be Kevin Durant.

 ?? GARY A. VASQUEZ/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? What was once ‘Point Book’ in 2018-19 is now a more complete player who can consistent­ly create for himself and teammates.
GARY A. VASQUEZ/USA TODAY SPORTS What was once ‘Point Book’ in 2018-19 is now a more complete player who can consistent­ly create for himself and teammates.

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