LOS ANGELES — Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker said he received eight shots of a numbing agent when his broken nose was put back in place between Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference finals. Then, wearing a clear mask to protect his face, Booker went out and missed twice that many shots in Thursday’s 106-92 loss to the LA Clippers in Game 3.
Booker, who came into the night averaging 28.3 points in the playoffs, went just 5-for-21 from the field (1-for-7 from 3) and finished with 15 points as the Clippers snapped the Suns’ nine-game postseason winning streak to draw within 2-1 in the series.
It was just the third time in Booker’s career that he played 40 or more minutes and scored 15 points or fewer, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Despite his struggles, the All-Star guard wouldn’t blame his scoring woes on his nose, which he broke in three places during a head-on collision with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“The nose feels fine,” Booker said. “We just lost the game.”
The nose didn’t feel so fine just a day ago when, prior to the Suns’ team flight from Phoenix to L.A., Booker underwent a fast-tracked tune-up.
“That was probably the worst part,” he said, with some bruising under his eyes showing above his swollen cheeks. “It’s a procedure that they usually say they put you under [anesthesia] for, but we had a flight out a couple hours later, so they just numbed it up — all over the place, it felt like.
“Like eight shots to numb it up and then they go in there and put it back — they break it again. They break it back in place.”
Booker vowed the Suns’ confidence was not broken, even though just about everything that could have gone wrong for Phoenix did — from Booker’s shooting to Chris Paul going an equally inept 5-for-19 in his return from an eight-day absence because of the league’s health and safety protocols, to Jae Crowder fouling out, to Cameron Payne playing just four minutes before spraining his left ankle.
“The spirit is high,” Booker said. “We move on to the next one. That’s what type of team we are. We’ve been like that the whole season, so we’ll stick with that. We’ll come in tomorrow, go over film, regroup and get ready for Game 4.”
Coming into Game 3, Booker said he sought the advice of a former masked shooting guard with a killer midrange game, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, who famously wore a protective faceguard for most of his career.
“He’s my favorite player of all time,” Booker said. “I’ve had short conversations with him in the past, and I thought this was the perfect time to talk to him some more and get some advice.”
Booker said Hamilton told him he wore the mask long after the broken nose he suffered during the 2003-04 season healed because it put him in character.
“He felt comfortable getting in the paint. He felt like he had extra protection, he had an extra layer,” Booker relayed. “He said, ‘Just don’t worry about it. Don’t take it off when you shoot free throws, and just don’t let it be a distraction to you.'”
Booker said that the mask “doesn’t affect” him, but Beverley’s defense might have. Over the past two games of the series, Booker shot just 3-for-15 with the Clippers’ guard defending him, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“He’s ultra aggressive,” Booker said of Beverley. “He’s denying, limiting touches. He has one objective out there, and we understand that. So I feel like other things should open up, and we have to look at the film and see what’s open and see what we can get.”
Suns coach Monty Williams said he knows Booker will “make no excuses” for his performance — whether he’s able to smell the popcorn in the stands or not — but he will get in his ear prior to Game 4.
“Go out there and hoop,” Williams said, when asked to share the message he’ll impart. “Don’t forget who you are.”
As off as Booker and Paul were — their 10-for-40 (25%) combined output was the worst field goal percentage by All-Star teammates in a playoff game since 1957, according to the Elias Sports Bureau — they were on the same page when it came to processing the loss.
“He got the mask. He’s fine,” Paul said. “We’re not one of those teams looking for excuses and all that stuff. Give [the Clippers] their credit — they played really well tonight. We’ll get ready for Game 4.”