The Clippers start pretty small despite their positional versatility, meaning Marcus Morris defended Deandre Ayton a couple times early, and in general, the Suns took advantage of Ivica Zubac in the paint to start the game. Phoenix got out to an 8-2 start as the Clippers missed a couple open triples.
Ricky Rubio made a point of finding Ayton early, so the big man scored eight of the Suns’ first 15 points and Rubio dealt three quick assists. Once the Clippers started to make shots again, though, the score got a little closer to even.
When Monty Williams called his first timeout, the Suns’ lead had dissipated, 15-12.
Zubac and Patrick Beverley came out of the lineup early with two fouls apiece, and the Suns kept getting to the line, notching six free throws in the first 7:03 of action.
They were able to slow the game down and get easy points at the line, while the Clippers started 5-15 from the field with just two free-throw attempts. Back and forth, forth and back.
Some great defense from Ayton while he was in though, including one of his more impressive blocks of the season, as he rotated from a double in the post to block Marcus Morris Sr. at the basket.
The weakside block on Morris was terrific, but what the clip doesn't show is Ayton hedging to help Booker on a Paul George post-up. Ayton's improvement on D has been so encouraging this yearpic.twitter.com/HGdYXImX0J— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) February 27, 2020
At that point, I guess Kawhi Leonard just got pissed off. He scored a flurry of points, including three free-throw tries where he just milked the referees.
The Clippers opened the second period on an 11-3 run, but still couldn’t take over. There was generally just a lot of JaMychal Green, which feels like a bad thing for a team with Leonard, Paul George and all the rest of the Clippers’ talent.
Another Ayton block, too!
The Clippers keep challenging DA.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 27, 2020
It keeps going poorly for them ♂️ pic.twitter.com/hzgGRrbiAQ
Side note: I hate this camera angle and I’m not sure why team accounts love it so much.
But back to the game.
When Los Angeles’ starters checked back in (Leonard and Morris at least), they started to finally find a rhythm. Morris scored five quick points and Leonard got involved as a passer after drawing the defense toward him with his scoring flurry earlier in the game.
The Clippers led, 42-38, with 5:00 to go.
A George jumper (finally one went in) spurred a 13-1 run by the Clippers right after that, with Beverley narrowly hitting a triple over Ayton’s fingertips that led to a timeout by Williams.
George hit another one out of the break to push the Clippers’ lead to eight.
The Clippers led, 54-49, heading into the half. Booker was 3-11 from the field for just eight points. More Ayton in the second half, please.
Everyone was focused on feeding the big man after all to start the third. Dario Saric and Rubio each had lobs to Ayton that resulted in dunks, and the Suns worked their way right back within striking distance of the Clippers early on.
Deandre says 'HELLO DOWN THERE' to Kawhi pic.twitter.com/h7qOYbPL2k— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) February 27, 2020
A short while later, Mikal Bridges was called for a foul in transition as George went to the basket. Williams challenged and the call became a jump ball at center court. The Clippers won it and hit a three. Go figure.
After a few missed defensive rebounds by Ayton and Co., Williams went to Aron Baynes at center. It became a key stretch that would determine whether Ayton even had to return to the game in the fourth quarter, or if the Clippers would continue their tear.
Still down 13 with a chance to cut into the lead, the Suns (Saric and Elie Okobo) each missed open threes in the same possession. Saric missed a bunny the next time down. Finally, Baynes hit a short jumper to get the Suns back on the board after a dry spell.
The story of this game was that the Suns were unable to capitalize when the Clippers hit a bump in the road. Phoenix started 3-5 from three then made just two of their next 16 attempts from deep. They took care of the ball much better than they did on the recent road trip, but just couldn’t make shots, even off of Los Angeles makes.
The Suns went into the fourth down, 76-66.
It was a rough night for Ayton mid-rangers, and the big man took a bad one for his first shot of the fourth. It hit the front of the rim. Against a matchup like Montrezl Harrell, it’s on Ayton to make the most of his advantages. Unless someone was getting him the ball, he couldn’t. Most of Ayton’s shots were on putbacks and rim rolls. Honestly, it was probably a better defensive game for Ayton than anything, which is saying something about a guy who scored 23 points with seven offensive rebounds.
Booker checked back in with the Suns down 16 and 8:03 remaining. Do or die time.
The lingering effects of Reggie Jackson’s great night at home against the Suns in late January followed him to Los Angeles, it seems. Jackson diced up the Suns’ defense in the fourth quarter in a bench-heavy lineup that seemed to seal the deal for the Clippers.
After missing his first three shots, Carter hit a huge three to bring the Suns within 10 with 5:15 to go. First big flex and scream from Carter in a while. Give that guy all the backup guard minutes.
Another big three, this time by Rubio after Booker passed up an open shot to get his point guard wide open on the wing, came with 3:31 left. It cut the lead to seven. Too little too late?
In response to the Suns’ clutch jumpers, Beverley missed a key shot off an offensive rebound that would have maybe put the game out of reach with just a couple minutes left.
Though Booker did a solid job on Leonard all night (he shot just 7-17), Leonard routinely got foul calls he had no business getting. A thrust here and there was all it took for Leonard to sell the contact and get to the line. He hit two free throws late to put the Clippers up 10 and clinch the game.