Booker leads charge as Suns heat up, even series

PHOENIX — LA Clippers coach Ty Lue came into this series with a plan to confuse, frustrate and unbalance a Phoenix Suns team inexperienced playing together with unending defensive scheme changes.

With zone, double teams from every angle, rapid-fire matchup switches and other various wrinkles, Lue’s strategy was working. The Clippers took Game 1, smothering the Suns’ attack, and were up 13 points with more of the same in the second quarter of Tuesday’s Game 2.

But then the Suns figured out a way to stop it: Don’t let the Clippers even set up a defense.

After a key timeout during which coach Monty Williams challenged his team to “draw a line in the sand,” the Suns engaged their own defense and strung together stops. It triggered an offensive explosion that led to a 123-109 Phoenix victory to even the series at 1-1.

It was led by Devin Booker, who finished with 38 points and nine assists in a playmaking masterpiece.

“It’s that time of year; everything counts,” Booker said. “[The Clippers] are doing a lot of things that we haven’t seen before. They have a veteran team that can do it on the fly. I don’t think a lot of teams can do that. … When they’re doing that, just have to simplify it.”

Booker ended the first half with a 3-pointer to finish off an 11-2 run that was fueled by five straight Clippers misses as the Suns shut off the paint and sent their own double teams at star Kawhi Leonard.

Then Phoenix opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run that secured the lead for good. Booker was a machine, scored 18 points in the quarter on 7-of-8 shooting as he forced the ball in transition and the defense kept working. He also had four assists, accounting for 28 of the Suns’ 33 points in the pivotal quarter.

“I feel like he’s an oversized point guard to be honest,” said Kevin Durant, who put in 25 points. “The guy that can initiate, make plays for others and get to the rim with either hand so he can do pretty much everything at that point guard position.”

There was no missing the game intensifying with the Suns pushing back to avoid going down 2-0. Durant and former teammate Russell Westbrook, who had another strong game with 28 points, barked at each other going to their benches after a timeout in the second half.

Suns point guard Chris Paul, who had 16 points and 8 assists, got into a running back-and-forth with Clippers backup guard Bones Hyland. Late in the game, two referees stepped between the two when they approached each other near the Clippers’ bench. Moments after the game, Paul bumped Leonard as they passed each other on the way to their locker rooms.

After scoring 38 points in Game 1, Leonard had another excellent showing Tuesday with 31 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. But the double teams did slow him down a little and led to three turnovers.

“Emotions are high,” Williams said. “I like the guys, the way they’re getting after each other, because they’re holding each other accountable and that’s the sign of a close team. All that stuff is just a part of playoff basketball.”