Just as we’ve seen time and again in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the LA Clippers faced an elimination game and they stepped up to the challenge, as they defeated the Phoenix Suns 116-102 on Monday at Phoenix Suns Arena in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
The win brought the series to 3-2 in favor of the Suns, with Paul George posting a double-double, including 41 points — a career high in the playoffs — to lead the way for the Clippers and extend the season at least one more game.
With Ivica Zubac joining the ranks of the injured and out for the Clippers with an MCL sprain, Ty Lue started George, Reggie Jackson, Patrick Beverley, Marcus Morris Sr. and Terance Mann. So the team went for super small, essentially out of necessity.
The Clippers raced out to a 7-0 lead to open the game before Devon Booker hit a wide-open 3-pointer on his first shot of the game for Phoenix. LA threw another wrinkle to start Game 5, playing in a zone defensively with needing to concede size early.
The Clippers were up for it in the opening minutes, active on defense leading to turnovers and great baskets in transition. LA led 18-5 at the first timeout.
But the Suns woke up after the first break, and came back to significantly narrow the Clippers’ big lead. Still, LA held on to maintain their edge through the 1st quarter, leading 36-26 after a buzzer-beater lay-up by Jackson.
DeMarcus Cousins had a big say early in the game as the only experienced big on the Clippers, and he had 10 points in the first 14 minutes of the game off the bench, as he went to work on Phoenix reserve center Dario Saric.
But the Suns continued to chip away at their deficit and got to within two points with a little under 8:00 left in the quarter. Nevertheless, the Clippers stayed the course and continued to stay up as the 2nd quarter wound down. In fact, they got a little more distance, leading by seven at halftime, 59-52, which would have been a 10-point lead if not for a great buzzer-beater by Booker off a hook and ladder in-bounds set.
The game tightened up in the 3rd quarter, the Clippers finding shots harder to come by but still keeping their edge. Midway through the quarter, Beverley and Chris Paul got tangled up in a Suns possession, Paul hitting the deck awkwardly and a long review resulting in a Flagrant 1 foul call against Beverley, although that looked harsh. The foul and ensuing possession for Phoenix narrowed the deficit five points.
But LA didn’t quit and immediately grabbed a couple quick baskets to take the lead back to nine points. Then Beverley hit a 3-pointer to take the lead up to 12 points for the Clippers. They finished the quarter even better, leading 91-78 through 36 minutes.
The Clippers continued to lead in the final quarter but the Suns just wouldn’t go away, with Booker really pushing to keep the home team in the game throughout.
George started to melt down midway through the 4th quarter. He lost his dribble and Cam Johnson drove to the other end to hit a lay-up and and-one after being fouled, and then George picked up a foul on a box-out by shoving down Torrey Craig. While George had reason to be upset by the holding he got on his turnover, it was not a heads-up play in an elimination game. However, the subsequent free throw was missed, so it stayed a two-possession game. That turned out to be the turning point in the game.
From there, the Clippers pushed to extend their lead and got a few big baskets, reaching 100 first (Lawler’s law). Jackson hit three straight buckets to extend LA’s lead to 12 points with 4:47 left in the game.
They then extended it to 16 points after Jae Crowder poked George in the eye and George came up big, finding some traction after his momentary struggles earlier in the quarter.
As ever, in games like this it was a team effort to get the win, and everyone who featured stepped up on the night. But special praise is reserved for Cousins, who had 15 points off the bench pretty much out of nowhere, Jackson, who was clutch with his shots when the Clippers needed a boost, and George, who took over the game in the 2nd half to ensure this was not it for the season. We’ve seen the Clippers play on the edge of elimination throughout the playoffs, but after the pundits predicted pregame the Suns would wrap up the series after Zubac was ruled out, credit to the “next man up” mentality carrying LA through yet again this season.
So these teams will be back at it for Game 6 on Wednesday at Staples Center. Yet another elimination game for the Clippers! Here’s hoping it’s yet another win to hold off the end of the season and push it to a Game 7.