For three quarters, the Clippers and Suns played a game befitting two of the top three seeds in the West. Both teams traded blows throughout, with neither team building a double-digit lead, and the Clippers held a slim two-point advantage heading into the final frame.
But in the fourth quarter, Phoenix’s fatigue finally started to take over. The Suns shot 2-of-9 to start the quarter while the Clippers’ execution won the day. LA made 6-of-12 shots over the same stretch, punctuated by a Paul George wing three to push the lead to 11, the largest of the game, at 100-89. Lawler’s Law. Game over.
The key was the Clippers going to their small lineup against Deandre Ayton and the Suns. LA had feasted against the Dario Saric center units, as Saric was a minus-13 in less than 13 minutes despite entering the game with the best on-off differential for the Suns. But the two teams had essentially played even with Ivica Zubac against Ayton, so Ty Lue changed his strategy. With Rajon Rondo, George, Kawhi Leonard, Nic Batum, and Marcus Morris Sr., the Clippers created too many good looks en route to a 113-103 victory.
George led the way early. He had 18 points in the first half as LA got off to another hot start, if not quite as perfect as Tuesday’s. George hit his first three shots, Ivica Zubac finished a couple bunnies in the paint, and Marcus Morris Sr. hit a triple all before the first commercial break, putting the Clippers up 14-13 five minutes into the game.
But the Suns are a much stingier defensive team than the Blazers, and they tightened things up on the Clippers. LA converted its field goals at a high clip, but the Clippers also turned the ball over too frequently. An unexpected culprit was Kawhi Leonard, who had more giveaways than made shots in the first half.
When George sat, the playmaking void was filled by Rajon Rondo, who was his usual national TV spirited self, particularly against old foe Chris Paul. Rondo’s passes were crisp, but he was also looking to score, whether at the cup or from long range. He also ran some two-man game with Patrick Patterson, an action yet to be seen from this Clippers offense.
The Clippers were content to concede midrange jumpers to Phoenix, but the Suns thrived in that area early. They were 11-of-15 from midrange in the first half. Those same shots feel short in the second half, when the Clippers started to create separation.
A big part of LA’s success in the second half was the play of Leonard, who found some mojo at halftime. He had 19 points and four assists, but more importantly, found a way to the rim over and over again. When Kawhi’s bouncy, there’s nothing a defense can do.
There was a moment when it felt like this could get away from the Clippers, after the Suns cut it to four following the Patrick Beverley ejection. But LA kept its composure and made plays down the stretch. A quality win, albeit against a tired opponent, but an important one nonetheless to win the season series against Phoenix.