By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

6/20/21 Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns WCF, Game 1

Only 36 after the franchise’s biggest win, the Clippers would have to travel to Phoenix to appease the NBA, ABC, and their contractual obligations. In this Western Conference Finals matchup, each team would be without key contributors, the Suns would be without Chris Paul and the Clippers would be without Kawhi Leonard. Having a week off along with having the hungry Devin Booker, the Suns outlasted the Clippers in the initial game of these series. 

Chris Paul would miss Game 1 due to the NBA’s Health and Safety protocol, while Kawhi Leonard would miss the first game of this Western Conference Finals because of what the Clippers are calling a sprained knee. Paul could return for likely game 3 or 4 of this series, however, there is no projected return date for Leonard. Despite the short turnaround and the absence of their best player, the Clippers hung in there throughout Game 1 of this series though Devin Booker had a monumental performance in this Game 1 matchup.

In his first time in the playoffs, Devin Booker is putting the league on notice, as he becomes the fourth person ever to led both teams in points, rebounds, and assists. With this feat, he joins Larry Bird, LeBron James, and Bill Russell as the only men in the league’s history to accomplish such a stat line. Booker would say post-game, “I’m just going out there to win every game possible. I’ve been saying this since the start of the playoffs —-every next game is the biggest game.”

After being down by 3 points at the half and Booker going off for 18 points in the third quarter, Paul George responded by scoring 15 points of his own to keep the game close for the Clippers. George also hit a big three-pointer to close out the quarter to tie the game as they went into the fourth quarter. 

The Suns then opened up the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run, before the Clippers would work their way back into the game. They narrowed the lead to two points on a Terance Mann three-pointer with seconds remaining in the game. However, the Suns would hold them off to capture their eighth consecutive win in these playoffs. This left Paul George to say, “I think this was a good feel-out game to see adjustments. We have been great at adjusting.”

The Suns were able to hold onto to defend their home court in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Ty Lue has been great at adjustment all season, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with for Game 2. At this time, it isn’t known whether Chris Paul will be back for the Sun in Game 2.  

6/22/21 Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns WCF, Game 2

Some would say, the Clippers have the Suns right where they want them considering their propensity to come back when down in their playoffs series as they did in the first and second round of this year’s playoffs. For the Clippers to get a win in this in Game 2, they would have to break the Suns 8-0 game playoffs win streak. Yet again, the Suns would be without the services of Chris Paul as the Clippers would be without Kawhi Leonard for an unspecified about of time.

The refereeing in this game was less than ideal from the first whistle of the first quarter. Despite the bad refereeing for either team, the game remained a nail-bitter through all four quarters. In this game, there were 11 lead changes and the Suns held the biggest lead of 9 points while the biggest lead the Clippers held was 6 points.

The Suns Deandre Ayton would score a game-high 12 points in the game’s opening quarter. He was complimented by Cameron Payne’s 7 points and a couple of assists. Reggie Jackson would match Payne’s points with 7 points of his own to keep the game close. 

The Suns would carry a one-point lead into halftime. Though each team took 43 shots in the half, the Suns made 20 of 43 vs 18 of 43. Cameron Payne had a game-high 16 points and 1 assist, supported by Deandre’s 12 points and 6 rebounds. While the Clippers Reggie Jackson would pace them with 11 points with one rebound and one assist.

Through 3 quarters the Suns maintained a 4-point lead in this game. Payne led the Suns with a game-high 23 points, 1 rebound, and 4 assists, he was aided by Deandre Ayton’s 20 points and team-high 11 points. In contrast, Reggie Jackson and Paul George led the Clippers with 16 points.

Patrick Beverley’s aggressive defense caused him to bump heads with Devin Booker, who as a results would need to go to the locker room to have his nose stitched up. “It feels better now,” Booker would say about his nose“If we would have lost, I think it would hurt a little bit more. It’s good.”

The game would go back and forth in the waning moments of the game where each team would swap the lead and suffer a myriad of mistakes. Paul George put the Clippers in prime position to steal Game 2 and tie this series up. By scoring 26 points grabbing six rebounds and handing out six assists. George single-handedly erased a seven-point deficit to give the Clippers a one-point lead with seconds remaining on the clock.  

George had a chance to give the Clippers a three-point lead, but surprisingly he missed not one but two free throws late in the game. Leaving the door open for the Suns to hit make a buzzer-beater to win the game. After missing an open three-point the Suns would take the ball out with under a minute remaining in the game. 

In his post-game press conference, Paul George would say about the missed free throws, “Obviously it was an opportunity that was missed. Pat made an unbelievable play that put me in a position to extend the lead. I’m always confident at the free-throw line. I’ve always been very successful in clutch moments at the free-throw line.”

Suns HC Monty Williams said he stole parts of former Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown’s and former Phoenix coach Joe Prunty’s playbooks to cobble the idea together. Crowder would then throw a nice entry pass into the Deandre Ayton for the game-winning dunk. Ayton would say about that play, “I’ll start by saying that’s definitely Jae [Crowder’s] game-winner, making a great pass for a 7-footer.”  

One would think this would be a devastating loss for the Clippers, however, they have been here before and Coach Ty Lue’s poise will likely show itself. Let me know what you think about the Clippers’ first couple of games of the Western Conference Finals. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport to let me know what you think of this recent news and its impact on this team. Also, forward any suggestions on what additional topics or angles you’d like to see discussed to info@whatsgoodinsports.com

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