The L.A. Clippers were playing with house money in this series. Without Kawhi Leonard, then without Ivica Zubac, and with an empty tank after playing every other since the first round, the odds weren’t exactly in the Clippers’ favor.
Nevertheless, through five games, they were outscoring the Phoenix Suns, despite trailing 3-2 in the series. They had figured out how to slow one of the best offenses in the league and they had seemingly gained a mental advantage by ruining Phoenix’s first closeout game on its home court.
But the good vibes couldn’t last forever, and the Clippers finally reached the end of their storybook postseason run. Chris Paul, who had perhaps the greatest Clippers career of all time, drove a dagger into the heart of his former franchise, pick-and-rolling L.A. to death in a 130-103 win.
Paul led the way with 41 points and eight assists, and he led a tour de force in managing the game at the end of the third and the start of the fourth. Unfortunately for the Clippers, Paul George wasn’t able to keep up. He and Reggie Jackson combined for 34 points, and with the Suns also getting double-digit contributions from Devin Booker, Jae Crowder, and Deandre Ayton, the Clippers couldn’t keep up.
It was the first game this series since Game 1 where L.A.’s defense was really the problem. It didn’t seem that way early, when Patrick Beverley provided the first-quarter boost. He was predictably irritating for Chris Paul on the other end, doing a fantastic job of chasing around screens and getting in Paul’s airspace on his jumpers. The Suns shaded off of him, allowing Beverley to get to the rim easily on multiple occasions, too.
The problem for the Clippers was the Phoenix started to figure out the zone. They got a lob on a Mikal Bridges back cut on the opening possession. They also figured out how to get Deandre Ayton involved after a relatively quiet Game 5, whether that was looking for him on the roll or just dumping the ball down to him in the post while the Clippers were playing small. Ayton went 5-of-6 from the field in the first quarter for 10 points.
The Suns built an eight-point lead in the opening frame, but the Clippers got it down to four, 33-29, thanks to a bailout 3-pointer from DeMarcus Cousins at the buzzer.
The offense continued to roll in from Cousins in the second, but for both teams. Cameron Payne and Paul targeted him on pick-and-rolls, Dario Sarić hit a couple of threes, and the lead was up to 10 in an instant. Once the Clippers got their small lineup back in, they worked their way back fairly quickly as their guards once again got to the hoop at will, highlighted by Beverley crossing up Paul and letting him hear about it.
Pat Bev took Chris Paul to school pic.twitter.com/t9exblVqPQ— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 1, 2021
Beverley had a chance to bring the Clippers all the way back and give them a lead with a corner three that would have blown the roof off of Staples Center, but he missed and Phoenix stayed ahead for the rest of the half. The keys for the Suns offense were offensive rebounds — they had 15 second-chance points before intermission — and Jae Crowder finally hitting threes. He had four in the first half, more than in any prior game in the series, and his 16 points led all scorers.
The Clippers had some good looks from three, but as they have for the last few games of this series, couldn’t cash in. Some of the misses were wildly off, almost out of character for this particular team.
I don't know the numbers but it feels like the Clippers have gotten good looks. This one Jackson just misses but good read from PG as the double comes. pic.twitter.com/qAN3Ylupo8— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) July 1, 2021
The Suns pushed the lead up to 17 in the third quarter, and the Clippers went down swinging with George, Jackson, Cousins, Batum, and Morris. They put up a 10-0 run coming out of the timeout, but Paul responded with an 8-0 spurt of his own. It was never close after that.