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Clippers come up just short in 120-114 loss

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L.A. has lost the series opener for the third straight time.

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game One Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

At least the Clippers are used to coming from behind in the playoffs.

The Clippers dropped Game 1 in Phoenix 120-114 despite 58 combined points from the tag team of Paul George and Reggie Jackson. Devin Booker’s 40-point triple double, combined with double-digit scoring outings from five other Suns, proved to be too much to overcome with L.A. on short rest and on fumes by the end of this one.

Terance Mann and Rajon Rondo led a spirited rally to get the Clippers within two with 22 seconds to play, but Booker’s dunk sealed it, giving Phoenix the 1-0 series led.

George appeared to be riding on adrenaline early to get the Clippers started. He hunted Devin Booker on switches, getting downhill, and flashing in some long jumpers against Deandre Ayton in drop coverage. George finished the first quarter with 12 points, keeping the Clippers afloat as the rest of the team managed just nine points.

Defensively, the Clippers had better success, though some of that was due to the Suns similarly struggling from long range. But they did a good job of limiting Booker’s impact; their lone weakness was an inability to keep Ayton off the glass, which gave Phoenix a few extra opportunities. Neither team could gain separation though, which the period ending in a 21-21 tie.

Ty Lue swung for the fences to get George as much rest as possible in the second quarter, using a lineup of Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Nico Batum, and DeMarcus Cousins for long stretches. That grouping was flammable defensively, but made up for it on the other end, specifically Cousins, who dunked Dario Sarić into oblivion on the first offensive possession.

Once Ayton got back into the game, the defensive problems outweighed the offensive punch, and the Suns put together a 10-0 run to wrest control — albeit briefly. Reggie Jackson did what he does, bailing the Clippers out with two quick buckets at the rim to cut the lead from five to one, and the two teams essentially traded baskets for the rest of the half, the Suns taking a 3-point lead into intermission.

The Clippers were delivered a setback during the break, as Marcus Morris Sr. was unable to start the third. Phoenix took advantage, with Booker getting comfortable running pick-and-roll against Ivica Zubac. The Suns set screens high up on the floor, forcing Zubac to cover a lot of ground and allowing Booker to walk into elbow pull-ups, his preferred zone on the court.

Fortunately, George was up to the challenge of going shot for shot with Booker. He played the full third, dropping 15 points by also cruising into jumpers off of screens — fortunately, he made threes while Booker resorted to twos. Add in Jackson’s 11 points in the third, and the Clippers tied the game after three.

The problem then became that the Suns kept Booker in the game while the Clippers tried to sneak George a rest. And the same lineup that piled up points in the second quarter couldn’t do the same in the fourth, allowing a quick 10-2 spurt with George on the bench. It was hard for the Clippers to make up ground with Booker now in rhythm. The scored at a sufficient rate with the starters back on the court, but couldn’t get stops until a final flurry.

The Clippers get a slightly longer rest with an evening game on Tuesday, as they have one more chance to steal a game on the road.