The LA Clippers have controlled Game 3s in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and that trend continued on Thursday, when they defeated the Phoenix Suns 106-92 at Staples Center in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
In spite of the return of Suns guard Chris Paul from the COVID protocols that caused him to miss the first two games of the series, the Clippers stepped up at home and narrowed the series deficit to 2-1 with the victory.
Ty Lue made one change to the starting five for Game 3, bringing in Terance Mann in place of Marcus Morris Sr. Otherwise, it was a familiar group of Reggie Jackson, Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Ivica Zubac.
Deandre Ayton opened the scoring for Phoenix, before the Clippers took their first lead at 5-2 after Beverley buried a 3-pointer. The Clippers stayed in the lead from there, with Zubac being active early, drawing several fouls and making 7-of-8 free throws in the first quarter. LA led 29-21 after 12 minutes, the eight-point margin their biggest of the series for them to that point.
After the Suns quickly grabbed the first five points of the 2nd quarter, the Clippers had to regroup to hang onto their lead. They managed to for about half the quarter, but LA got sloppy and quit hitting shots while also making careless turnovers. Phoenix retook the lead with just under 6:00 to go until halftime.
But the Clippers got a grip back on the proceedings and the teams traded leads down the stretch of the 2nd quarter.
Neither team shot well in the 1st half, aside from Ayton and Cameron Johnson for the Suns, but Phoenix did walk into the locker room ahead, but only 48-46 with George hitting a big dunk to close out the half.
Suns guard Cameron Payne rolled his ankle in the 1st half and was ruled out for the rest of the game at halftime.
As the 3rd quarter got underway, Mann worked to be more aggressive on offense and hit a quick eight points out of the break. The Clippers ended up going up by eight points, with Devin Booker picking up three fouls in about three and a half minutes and getting pulled from the game.
The Clippers went on a 21-3 run in the 3rd quarter, Mann getting his and LA going up by 15 points, before the Suns clawed some of the deficit back.
The teams wrapped up three quarters of play with the Clippers leading 80-69, George hitting a half-court buzzer beater to push the Clips back ahead, George blowing kisses to the crowd in celebration.
PG BANKS IT IN FROM HALFCOURT AT THE BUZZER pic.twitter.com/g0J9zAZWXL— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 25, 2021
The Clippers rode that momentum into the 4th quarter, with Luke Kennard and Morris hitting big 3-pointers early in the final stanza to push LA’s lead to 16 points.
After extending it to 18, Phoenix scored a quick seven points to keep the game in hand. Then the lead was down to six points and the Clippers had to ride another rally attempt by their opponent.
Jackson hit two key baskets, however, first a layup and then a 3-pointer to expand LA’s cushion once more.
This game had a different feel than pretty much any other game we’ve seen in the playoffs this year for the Clippers. This one was a grinder — no player really took things over in terms of scoring, the teams had long cold spells of shooting and defense was good overall in this game — and it clearly took a team effort. George led the way overall with 27 points, while Zubac was huge in the 1st half in particular and Mann and Jackson played big roles in the 2nd half to push the Clippers over the line. Credit Beverley’s defense as well, as he helped stymie just about every Suns player in the course of the evening, and the Clippers are back in the series.
The work is certainly not done for LA, however. These teams will be back in action in Game 4 of the series on Saturday, again at Staples Center. Can the Clippers once again get the Game 4 W? It’s yet another must-win, but they’ve been delivering up to this point.