Clips cut deficit to one game
LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Paul George scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to power the Los Angeles Clippers over Phoenix 106-92 Thursday, delivering their first victory in the NBA semi-final playoff series.
Reggie Jackson added 23 points and Croatian center Ivica Zubac had 15 points and 16 rebounds as the Clippers pulled within 2-1 of the Suns in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals with game four set for Saturday in Los Angeles.
It was a crucial victory for the Clippers as no team in NBA history has ever won a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games.
But for the third playoff series in a row, the Clippers won game three after dropping the first two.
“This team is tough. We’ll do whatever it takes,” George said. “We trust one another. We’ve got each other’s backs.
“We’ve just got great resilience. The team does a great job making adjustments, counters — we just play hard.”
The Clippers remained without star Kawhi Leonard, out with a sprained right knee. George played 43 minutes and with Leonard sidelined, he has stepped up to lift the Clippers.
“I’m going to make the extra plays,” George said. “I’m going to give everything I have. I don’t care how many minutes I have to play. I’m just going to leave it all on the floor.”
Bahamas big man Deandre Ayton led Phoenix with 18 points while Chris Paul had 15 points and 12 assists for the Suns in his return after 11 days out while in Covid-19 safety protocols.
“They just outplayed us,” Paul said. “They had a lot more energy. I have to play a lot better. I have to pick up the pace. I played terrible.
“It felt good to get out there and play. Now we’ve got some unfinished business.”
Paul, who said he “messed around” on a court at home during his isolation, missed his first six shots from the floor before hitting a jumper late in the second quarter.
“Once you get over the shock of what’s happening, to hell with how and why, you figure out how you can get better,” Paul said when pressed on concerns about contracting the virus.
“I was prepared. I was good. I feel like I’ll feel even better next game. I’m just grateful to be out here playing.”
The Suns saw their nine-game win streak snapped after shooting a playoffs-worst 38.9% from the floor.
“The spirit is high. We move on to the next one,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “We’ve been like that. We’re going to regroup.”
Booker scored 15 points wearing a protective mask due to a broken nose. He said neither the mask nor to injury impacted him but tight defense by LA’s Patrick Beverly kept him to 5-of-21 shooting.
“He’s ultra aggressive,” Booker said of Beverly. “He’s denying. He’s limiting touches. I feel like other things should open up. We have to look at the film and see what we get.”
The Suns took a 48-46 half-time lead but Clippers guard Terance Mann scored eight points of his 12 points in just over three minutes to start the third quarter to put the hosts back on top.
The Clippers scored 11 straight points to open a 21-3 run that produced a 71-56 lead, with Mann netting eight to spark the spurt.
“We’ve got to see what we can do better,” Paul said. “We’ll look at the film and try to make sure we’re better, not just in the third period but all game long.”
George made a half-court jumper at the buzzer to end the third quarter, giving the Clippers an 80-69 edge entering the last 12 minutes and they kept the Suns at bay in the final period.
“This team is resilient. We never say die,” Mann said. “We find ways to impose our will on opponents. We’re just hungry.”
The Clippers led 29-21 after the first quarter, their largest lead in the series to that point, after holding the Suns to 37% shooting from the floor in the first 12 minutes.