NBA playoffs: Clippers pushed to the brink despite off nights from Suns’ stars
In what could charitably be described as a bad college basketball game, the Suns took a 3–1 lead in the conference finals with a 84–80 win over the Clippers on Saturday. Both teams shot under 40% from the field and combined to hit only nine threes total in what was a glorified rock fight.
Phoenix led by 14 after the first half, but Los Angeles chipped away in the second half, coming within one point of the Suns but never tying or taking the lead. For nearly four minutes in the fourth the game was stuck at a score of 71–70, emblematic of both teams’ offensive struggles.
Here are three thoughts on Phoenix’s victory.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker struggled again
Though now only one win away from the Finals, the Suns have to be slightly concerned about the shooting troubles of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Booker led Phoenix in scoring with 25 points, but shot only 8-of-22 from the field. Paul was worse, connecting on only six of his 22 field goal attempts. Together, Booker and Paul shot 31.8% from the floor and missed all of their threes. Neither could quite get it going down the stretch either, with Booker fouling out late on a charge, while Paul missed several of his patented pull-up midrange twos with a chance to seal the victory.
The Clips obviously deserve credit for their defensive tenacity. At the same time, Booker is dealing with his broken nose—he ditched his mask during Game 4—while Paul is trying to re-acquire his rhythm after being stuck in the COVID protocol for 11 days.
The Suns proved in Game 4 they can win an ugly one. Attempting to go down this route and win a championship seems dicey, however. If Phoenix does make it to the next round, Book and CP need to find their offense.
Reggie Jackson has become invaluable
Nobody played particularly well offensively for the Clippers in Game 4. If anyone provided a spark though, it was Jackson, who helped propel the comeback with a nine-point fourth quarter. With no threes falling, Jackson hit some timely jumpers inside the arc, ultimately finishing with 20 points to go along with five boards and five assists.
In the six games Kawhi Leonard has missed with his knee injury, Jackson has scored at least 20 in five—and had 19 in the other. With Paul George’s efficiency waning as his burden has increased, Jackson has become an indispensable second scorer for Los Angeles. Saturday was his first game with less than three threes since Game 4 of the Utah series, and he’s soaking up big minutes as the starting point guard.
Jackson hasn’t been perfect—the Clips could still use a secondary playmaker to help out George—but he’s thoroughly exceeded expectations considering the circumstances. Los Angeles’s season is on the brink after Saturday’s loss. If there has been a silver lining in Leonard’s absence, it’s that Jackson appears to be someone who can make an impact moving forward.
What will Ty Lue dial up next?
The hallmark of this Clippers postseason run has been their ability to handle adversity. Can Los Angeles dial up their own 3–1 comeback after falling victim to one last season? Ty Lue has been masterful with his adjustments so far in the playoffs, and he’ll need a new quirk to inject some energy into his club in Game 5.
Will Lue try going small again? Ivica Zubac played a career-high 40 minutes Saturday and held up well. Still, Lue pulled him out for some late defensive possessions, and Los Angeles went back to a lineup similar to what gave them success against the Jazz. The unit didn’t exactly unlock the offense, and it was susceptible to offensive rebounds, and yet it could be the best way for the Clips to find their groove from the three-point line. (Then again, L.A. missed plenty of clean looks from beyond the arc in Game 4.)
Maybe the next game brings out Rajon Rondo (who didn’t play Saturday after getting only eight minutes in Game 3.) Maybe Luke Kennard or Nic Batum see more time after both played less than 20 minutes. Lue, the head coach of perhaps the greatest 3–1 comeback in NBA history, will need to find similar magic if he hopes to extend the Clippers’ season on Monday.
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