NBA Playoffs Series Recap: Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns
The Western Conference Finals matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns was everything competitive. After the Suns took care of home-court advantage in the first two games, many had the Suns sweeping their way to the Finals as they did in the semifinals. Even without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers still felt they had an advantage in this series and kept the Suns on their toes for the most part. But it was the core of Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul as well as others that helped propel the Suns to their first Finals appearance since 1993.
Suns Take Care of Home Court
The Suns took care of home court, winning the first two games of the series, making it the third time in the post-season that the Clippers were down 0-2. While Phoenix was without Paul due to COVID-19 protocols, other players stepped up when it mattered most. In Game 1, Booker scored his first career triple-double (40 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) shooting 51 percent from the field. In Game 2, Ayton scored a double-double (24 points and 14 rebounds) as well as scored the game-winning dunk assisted by Jae Crowder.
Other players stepped up at home court, including Cameron Payne, who played well in Paul’s absence, averaging 20 points, shooting 50 percent in Games 1 and 2. Even though both games were close (less than 6 point difference), the Clippers didn’t have enough to close out games. In the final 5 minutes of Game 1 and 2, the Suns either made free throws within the last final minutes or a game-winning shot.
Clippers Bounce Back Again After Trailing 0-2
Los Angeles is back in the familiar territory being down 0-2 for the third straight playoff series, making them the first team in NBA history to be down 0-2 three times in a single postseason. In Game 3 at home, the Clippers rise to the occasion to beat Phoenix 92-106. Even though Chris Paul returned for Game 3, he and Booker were a combined 25 percent shooting (10 out of 40 field goals). It was George who helped put Los Angeles back on the map, as he scored 27 points and 15 points. Role players for the Clippers also showed up for Game 3, as Reggie Jackson scored 23 points, and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and 16 rebounds, tying his career playoff-high.
Paul George Delivers to Save Clippers From Elimination
After the Suns won Game 84-80 to take a 3-1 lead in the series, the Clippers desperately needed an answer in Game 5 to save them from elimination. George became that answer, scoring 41 points and 13 rebounds, shooting 75 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. In the third quarter, he let it all out on the court, scoring nearly half of his 41 points in the quarter. George was also surrounded by good company, as Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. scored in double figures (23 and 22 points).
Chris Paul Seizes The Moment
Game 6 at Los Angeles was the moment for both teams: a chance for the Clippers to push the series to a Game 7 and potentially reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, and a chance for the Suns to clinch a Finals berth for the first time since 1993. The game was off to a good start at the end of the first quarter, the score being 33-29, as Ayton scored eight points in the quarter and DeMarcus Cousins hit the three-point buzzer-beater to cut the deficit to four.
Once the 2nd half began, it was Paul’s moment to shine and he was on a mission. After scoring just 10 points in the first half, Paul exploded for 31 points in the second half. He had 41 points overall in Game 6, shooting 87 percent from three-point range (7 out of 8 made). Ayton finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds, and Booker finished with 22 points and 7 rebounds. George scored 21 points in Game 6 but only scored 3 points in the fourth quarter. Morris was the only player besides George to score double figures in Game 6 (26 points).
Phoenix Suns Making History
Winning Game 6 in the Western Conference Finals helped the Suns clinch a Finals berth, their first since the 1993 NBA Finals. This win and Finals appearance is significant for Paul, who makes his Finals appearance for the first time in his 16-year career. This win is also significant for coach Monty Williams, who makes his first Finals appearance as a head coach, and coached Paul nearly 10 years ago in New Orleans for the then Hornets.
Suns GM James Jones has done one great job assembling this team for this moment, as he not only acquired Paul in the off-season, he also acquired Monty Williams and key young role players like Cameron Johnson and Dario Šarić, who will be making their first Final appearance. Booker and Ayton will also be making their first finals appearances, two young players that have grown tremendously this season to make the Suns a legit team in the NBA.
What’s Next For The Clippers
Even though the Los Angeles Clippers did not make it to the NBA Finals, they still made history by clinching their first Conference Finals berth in team history and making a Western Conference Finals series go six games without Leonard. The Clippers’ mindset now for the next few months before next season is figuring out how to revamp their team the best way possible. Leonard has a $36 million player option for this free agency. He can either pick it up and be a restricted free agent in 2022 or decline it and once again be the player to watch for in free agency. Serge Ibaka also has a player option for this off-season, while Jackson, Cousins, Nicolas Batum, and Patrick Patterson are all unrestricted free agents. Expect the Clippers’ name to be in many headlines this off-season regarding free agency moves.
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