Both literally and figuratively, Tuesday was a rough night for Patrick Beverley and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Already down 1-0 to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals, the Clippers watched with horror as Deandre Ayton dunked a desperation inbounds lob from Jae Crowder with less than a second left on the clock, winning the game for the Suns and putting the Clippers in a 2-0 hole for the third time in three playoff series.
For Beverley, Ayton’s stunning final basket was yet another blow — the proverbial gut punch — in a game when his defense, though stellar, didn’t alter the final result, and his face, adorned with a postgame bandage, took quite a licking.
“I’ve played a lot of games in this league, this one’s hard. This one goes up there,” Beverley, a nine-year veteran, told reporters. ”This is a hard game to kind of swallow because you look at this game, I mean, we got this game won, you know.”
There Will Be Blood
Following Devin Booker’s explosive 40-point triple-double in Game 1, Beverley’s primary objective in starting Game 2 was to shut down the Suns’ top scorer. And for the most part, in 26 minutes of floor time, he succeeded.
Aided by a duo of backup defenders — Terance Mann and Rajon Rondo — Beverley pestered the Suns’ guard relentlessly, imperiling his dribble with quick hands and more or less face-guarding Booker when he was off the ball. Booker finished the game with just 20 points on 5-for-16 shooting and turned the rock over seven times (twice in the fourth quarter), which was his highest tally so far in the playoffs and the most since his eight turnovers on New Year’s Day.
Clippers’ coach Ty Lue described Beverley’s defense to reporters as “great” and “unbelievable,” and teammate Reggie Jackson felt Beverley kept Booker under wraps for much of the game.
“Pat did a great job trying to disrupt him earlier. Kept him bottled up for most of the night,” said Jackson. “I liked that matchup.” But even so, it’s likely that two plays in particular will be what’s most remembered about Beverley’s performance.
The first came with three minutes and change remaining in the third quarter, when Beverley’s forehead unintentionally collided with Booker’s nose, breaking it, and sending the Suns star to the locker room for a quick stitch job. Foreheads are obviously harder than noses, so aside from a cut and being called for a foul, Beverley easily got the better end of the deal. Booker, who played 41 total minutes, returned to the floor to start the fourth.
The second play, though less dramatic, was more significant in that it allowed the Clippers to get back in the game with time running low in the fourth. With 1:06 remaining and the Clippers down three, Beverley ate an elbow while guarding Booker on a drive and kick out. Though no foul was immediately called, a whistle stopped the action as Beverley lay on the floor. Eventually, after a replay review — the second of five in the game’s final 91 seconds — Booker was charged with an offensive foul, something that bothered him far less than the stoppage of play.
“I was more disappointed because we had a wide-open shot from the corner,” said Booker, referring to his pass to Mikal Bridges in the corner as the whistle blew. “Even if we got the ball back, you let them set their defense and they just made a miscommunication that would’ve resulted in an open shot…I didn’t understand it.”
Instead of the Suns potentially going up six, the Clippers scored four straight to take the lead with 30 seconds remaining. Of course, things didn’t go so great for L.A. after that, but in the moment, Beverley’s reaction to being hit in the mouth elicited angry tweets from many viewers, one of whom was Trail Blazer’s superstar and Beverley troller Damian Lillard.
Payne Hurt Clippers With Speed, Quickness
While coach Lue was more than happy with Beverley’s defense on Booker, he was less enthused about the team’s effort against Cameron Payne.
“We just had no answer for Cameron Payne. He got downhill all night,” said Lue. “His speed and quickness really hurt us in that game.”
The sixth-year guard, who started only one game during the regular season but has been thrust into a starting role against the Clippers as All-Star point guard finishes going through the league’s COVID-19 protocol, scored 29 points on 12-for-24 shooting in Game 2, mostly on drives to the rim. And unlike Booker, Payne didn’t turn the ball over a single time.
“I’m just trying to hold it on until CP is back,” said Payne, who scored 11 points in Game 1. “If they need me scoring, I’m willing to do it. My only thing, there was no turnovers. That’s the only thing, I’m trying to keep that same identity because I’m the point guard. I just tried to come out there, hold it down for [Chris], play my game, just live with the results.”
Payne, who is left-handed, was rarely forced to go right by the Clippers, and on several occasions blew past Jackson for a layup or short jumper. Late in the fourth, he even took four-time All-Defensive selection Paul George to school, driving unfettered to his left for an easy bucket. Clearly, some of the attention being paid to Booker is allowing Payne to get good opportunities, a trade-off Booker is perfectly fine with.
“There’s a lot of denying, picking up full court, I feel like that opens up opportunities in space for other people to get it going,” said Booker. “Cam Payne, he’ll kill you, he’ll go after it. He’s not scared of the moment, he’s not scared to go make a play.”
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