Chris Paul was already out, and now Deandre Ayton will miss Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Denver, putting it all on Devin Booker for the Phoenix Suns.
As fans of the Phoenix Suns, we have been here before, only a few years ago, when Who Booker putting up 70 points as the supporting cast let him and us down. Now years later, when the support is supposed to be there, D-Book looks around and finds his cabinet bare.
Durant is good but not great as a Phoenix Suns player
Hopefully, we have more games this season and even a couple more years to get the Kevin Durant trade right, but right now, the Suns are simply not getting enough from Durant. It is not that KD is playing poorly. Durant is seventh in playoff scoring at 29.6 points per game, grabbing nine boards and dishing out five assists. Those numbers are phenomenal under almost any circumstance except the one the Suns are in now.
With D-Book playing like Michael Jordan and no one else consistently showing up for the Suns, it is unfair to expect Durant to be Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoč. In truth, if we consider that KD is shooting at his career playoff average of 48%, maybe this is as good as it will get for the Slim Reaper.
From a realistic perspective, Durant has been consistently good, scoring no fewer than 24 points and no more than 39. The problem is Phoenix needs and traded for a player that is supposed to be great. Durant was close to great in the game 4 win when he shot 58% from the field and scored 36 points. And that is the kind of effort the Suns will need in game 6 without Paul or Ayton.
Make or break moment for Booker and the Suns
A great KD will certainly make the odds of winning much greater for the Suns on Thursday evening, but ultimately, Phoenix will rise and fall on the strength of Booker. D-Book has been phenomenal during the postseason. While six players are averaging over 30 points per game during this postseason, only one – who has played more than two games, sorry Kawhi – is averaging more than 32; that is Booker, who is scoring 35.9 points per game, a full four points more per game than Jimmy Butler (31.9).
Not only is Booker’s scoring up over 8 points per game, his rebounds, assists, and steals are all up on his regular season averages. For the Suns to win game 6 and force anything goes game 7, they will need all that and more. Booker will have to summon something we have yet to see this post-season.
While the idea of Booker shooting higher than his 80% in game 3 is unrealistic, it is realistic that the fourth-leading scorer in the paint during the postseason gets some calls and gets to the line. Despite shooting better than 42% in every game this post-season, facing constant double-teams, and consistently playing downhill, Booker only gets 5.5 whistles per game while being called for 3.3 fouls.
D-Book may have had 60 in game 3 if not for foul trouble. The superstar treatment is not what Booker gets, although his numbers say he deserves it. How is it that Bruce Brown – the 56th-highest scorer in the playoffs – has a playoff game with 10 free throw attempts, and Booker does not?
This all brings us back to game 6. With no Paul and no Ayton facing an elimination game, we know Booker sees the game as a challenge and opportunity to take that next step into superstardom. The question is, does the league and officials agree?