By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

6/24/21 Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns WCF, Game 3

The Clipper returns home to the friendly confines of The Staples Center, where they will play in front of their home crowd for only the second time this season. They come into this game having lost 2 games in Phoenix by a total of 7 points, including a disastrous finish that included 2 miss free throws from Paul George that would’ve all but secured the game 2 for them. The reality of that opportunity propelled them to had the Suns their first loss in their last ten games, setting them up for a chance to tie the series up 2-2 in Game 4 of their first-ever Western Conference Finals. 

After the Clippers push their lead up to 8 points, late in the first quarter. The Clippers’ second team, led by Rajon Rondo, surprisingly allowed the Suns to take a 2-point lead midway through the second quarter. However, it would be the defense that Patrick Beverley and Terance Mann played on Devin Booker and Chris Paul that became the focal point in this game. The Clippers backcourt duo held the Suns’ backcourt starters to 7 points apiece in the first half of this contest. 

After Devin Booker and Patrick Beverley bumped heads in Game 2, Booker walked away with a broken nose after that collision. Therefore, Booker was essentially off his game for the majority of Game 3. The Clippers 2nd Round Draft pick of 2019 Terance Mann welcomed the 11-time All-Star and 4-time Assists Champion Chris Paul to the Western Conference Finals by locking him up for much of Game 3. Collectively Beverley and Mann forced the Suns’ backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker to shoot 10 of 40 with a combined six turnovers. 

When asked about what they did differently to corral the Suns backcourt Terance Mann said, “Nothing different. Just like I said be more aggressive, learning different spots, and stay in front of them. Learn different spots on how to contest their shots after watching the first two games. Seeing where they get to and what they like and things like that.”

Clippers Iron Man Ivica Zubac, who played in every game this season, dominated the boards with a game-high 16 rebounds complimented by his 15 points. Zubac would become the first Clipper with a double-double in the first half of a postseason game since DeAndre Jordan achieved this in 2017. Reggie Jackson also pitched in 23 points and 3 assists.

Paul George assisted Zubac by pulling down 15 rebounds of his own and combining those with his 27 points and 8 assists to lead the Clippers to their first-ever Western Conference Finals win. In his game post-game, media availability Paul George would say, “I knew I had to be better. All my energy was directed toward a better game.” George would also say, “We had to match their scrappiness. We can’t allow this team to play harder than us.”

The Clippers responded like Champions in Game 3, this team has performed best all playoffs long with their backs against the wall. As they have a 6-0 record when playing with a series deficit, in these playoffs. In-Game 4 of these Western Conference Finals, the Clippers will be looking to defending their home court while extending that record to 7-0 to tie this series up at 2-2 before heading back to Phoenix and making this the best of a three-game series.

6/26/21 Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns WCF, Game 4

Some would say the Clippers had the Suns right where they wanted them considering their propensity to come back when down in their playoffs series as they did in the first and second round of these playoffs. Yet much more would be on the line this time around. They would also be with their best player for the fifth consecutive game, though they would have their home crowd to give them some energy. 

The Clippers start with Jackson, Beverley, George, Morris Sr., and Zubac. It is surprising to me that Terance Mann is not starting. This may have allowed the Suns to jump out to a 10-2 lead, forcing Ty to call a timeout after only 2:15 minutes have gone by in the first quarter. The Suns would push their lead up to a 14-5 before the Clipper went on a 7-0 run to seemingly get back the game. 

The Clippers scored only 36 points in the first half of Game 4, in front of a sellout crowd of 18,222, on 29.5% shooting from the field and 18.2% from behind the arc. Though Paul George and Reggie Jackson would lead the way, they shot a collective 6 for 22 from the field and 2 for 12 from deep. With this putrid shooting, the Clippers found themselves down by 14 at the half. 

Though Chris Paul and the Suns did their best to maintain a double-digit lead in this third quarter, the Clippers outscored the Suns 30-19 in the quarter to trail 69-66 the Suns going into the fourth quarter, by making 10 of 17 shots in that quarter. All this with Kawhi watching from a suite in Staples Center. 

The Clippers poor shooting reemerged in the fourth quarter. Multiple times they pulled to within one point, however they could not take the lead as they appeared to have nothing left in the tank to pull out this win. Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue would say postgame, “We had a chance to take the lead on 12 possessions and couldn’t do it. It just wouldn’t fall for us.”

This ended being the worse shooting game for the Clippers all season as they shot 32.5% from the field and 16.1% from the 3-point range. Though the Suns weren’t much better as they shot 36% from the floor and 20% from behind the arc. Understanding the challenges both teams endured, Suns Head Coach Monty Williams would say post-game, “At that point, you’re just relying on your defense and mental stamina.”

Early in the game, Paul George scored his 430th point of the playoffs. This was his career-high for total points in a single postseason. By scoring 20 points in this game, George joins Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012, 2018) as the only three players in the past two decades of NBA playoffs to score at least 20 points in their team’s first 17 playoff games.

This loss would put the Clippers behind the Suns 1-3 in these Western Conference Finals. As if their road wasn’t tough enough, they would now have to win three games in a row, with only one game at home. The Clippers also fall to 6-1 when playing from a deficit in the playoffs. 

6/28/21 Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns WCF, Game 5

Not only would the Clippers be without their regular-season scoring leader in Kawhi Leonard for the seventh consecutive game. In-Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, they would be without their leading rebounder in this series Ivica Zubac who would be out because of a sprained knee. This being the case, Ty Lue would need to be creative when combating the Suns’ big man Deandre Ayton, who pulled down a career-high 22 rebounds last game.

Playing in their 18th game in 38 nights, the Clipper would start Patrick Beverley, Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Paul George, and Marcus Morris Sr. down low. These guys wasted no time jumping on the Suns, who were prepared to pop some champaign if they got the win and moved onto the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years. But the Clippers were content on bringing this series back to Los Angeles for Game 6.

The Clippers went up 7-0 before the Suns got the initial points from a Devin Booker three-pointer, they were up 20-7 before the Suns scored their first consecutive unanswered buckets. Marcus Morris Sr. would make his first six shots in the game to score 13 and Reggie Jackson would 2 for 3 from behind the arc to help the Clippers close out the first quarter with a 10-point lead. 

Coming off the bench in replacement of Ivica Zubac, Bougie Cousins came in to score 10 points in that first half. Morris Sr. continued his hot shooting to finish the first half with 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting from the field. Devin Booker scored 19 in that first half on 4 for 5 from deep and 5 for 11 from the field to keep the Suns within striking distance of the Clippers.

Paul George was masterful as he erupted for 20 points in the third quarter of game 5. He joins his teammate Terance Mann as the only Clippers to score 20+ points in a single quarter in a playoff game. George also becomes the fourth player in franchise history to score at least 40 points in a playoff game. Where the Suns took a brief 1 point lead on a Chris Paul free throw, the Clippers won the quarter 32-26.

Paul displayed his complete arsenal of tools and with his game tonight to become the first Clipper to score 41 points 13 rebounds and 6 assists while shooting 70%… Lebron James, Patrick Ewing, and Wilt Chamberlain are the only other player to accomplish this stat line. PG’s stat line was boosted by him shooting 80% in the second half, making him the only player in NBA playoff history who has scored at least 40 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists while shooting at least 75% from the field.

Monty Williams showed his displeasure with his teams play in this game when he said post-game “we showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation simple as that!”

The Clippers had Marcus Morris Sr. got them started, Paul George carried them through most of the game, especially in that third quarter and Reggie Jackson closed the game out for the Clippers with a couple of big three’s and a dunk late in the fourth quarter. The Clippers have now won 7 games when trailing in the series, which is the most wins by any team in NBA playoff history. 

On is able to get a sense of who Clippers HC Ty Lue is when he speaks so confidently about his team and what we should expect from them, “When we trust and play the right way, we’re a good team no matter who is on the floor. I thought we did a great job of doing that tonight. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. But just the group of guys we got. I love those guys. They compete every single night no matter who is on the floor, 1 through 17. The work is not done, but we came into a hostile environment and got a gritty win without three starters. We have to do it again two more times.”

As resilient as this team has been all season, I was confident they would bounce back from that ugly game 5 performance. Now they come back home to Staples Center and the motivation to not let a team celebrate on their home court would be easy to understand. I’d be interested in knowing if you feel this would be motivation enough for the Clippers to win Game 6. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport to let me know what you think of the Clippers Western Conference Finals chances. Also, forward any suggestions on what additional topics or angles you’d like to see discussed to info@whatsgoodinsports.com. 

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