A massive 39-point performance from Paul George and a cold shooting night by the Suns ended with a five-point road victory by the Clippers in Phoenix, 112-107.
As expected, the game was a track meet from the start. The Suns started the game executing poorly on offense, with the Clippers’ length clearly redirecting much of the ball movement and cutting that typically defines the Suns’ system.
The first basket shows how tight things were early. It took nearly the entire shot clock and a tough play from Devin Booker just to get Chris Paul an open three.
CP3 has us off and running! pic.twitter.com/d2iqjw5dFa— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 4, 2021
Fortunately for the Suns, that was all it took to get Paul in rhythm, as he scored seven early points and got pretty vocal with teammates to start the game. By the time the Clippers took a 16-7 lead, Paul had already gotten on Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges both for various miscues on both ends of the floor.
Simply put, the man looked like an All-Star again.
From there, though, the Clippers took control of the game with their scoring, and the Suns just never got comfortable on that end. As two examples, Los Angeles early on forced Ayton and Jae Crowder to run pick and roll because everything else was cut off, then later stamped out several possessions in a row in which the Suns went outside the scheme to try to get Booker posted up on Luke Kennard and Lou Williams as the Clippers went small.
They could hardly get Booker the ball, let alone score.
At the 9:41 mark of the second quarter, the Clippers led, 50-24, and the Suns had nine turnovers compared to just seven assists.
It was Paul George who was doing most of the scoring for LA despite two early turnovers from him. Worth keeping in mind going forward is how the Suns match up with the Clippers in this regard, as neither George nor Kawhi Leonard is a great matchup for Jae Crowder, and Booker is overmatched trying to guard those guys. The Clips’ star tandem would lineup at the 3 and 4 for most teams these days, but they play the wing for the Clips, meaning teams also have to account for Nic Batum and Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt. It’s a mess to defend, as the Suns saw in this one.
Not a lot of other teams can punish the Suns in this way, but obviously the Clippers are a divisional opponent and a fellow Western Conference contender, so it matters.
Midway through the second period, LA started to lose some momentum offensively, but the Suns couldn’t take advantage. Booker smartly came in aiming to get to the foul line, but nothing else really worked for the Suns for a few minutes until a Dario Saric triple with 4:25 to go brought the Suns back within 24 and forced the Clips into a timeout.
Hey, the comeback has to start somewhere. Right? pic.twitter.com/NGcnLkJdSg— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 4, 2021
The Suns kept their foot on the gas to close the period and were able to cut the lead to 20 by halftime.
The most remarkable thing about this game was the Suns’ patience. It’s been a trademark of theirs since Monty Williams took over, but to do it against a title contender when they’re down 31 is a whole other level. The team top to bottom deserves a lot of credit, but especially the starters, whom Williams has ridden hard early on this year and who play relentless and balanced basketball. They don’t get rattled.
A quick 6-0 run capped off by a Bridges three forced Ty Lue to call a timeout with the Clippers’ lead down to just 15 midway through the third.
Down to 15! Bridges 3 cuts the deficit! pic.twitter.com/Nio3qaZpX3— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 4, 2021
That’s where things stayed for a while as the teams went back and forth for a few minutes, with Ayton leading the way for the Suns, drawing fouls and recovering from a poor start to his matchup with Ivica Zubac.
The other center picked up where Ayton left off. Saric never makes the wrong play on offense and was surprisingly strong enough to match Zubac most of the game. He hit a three and a free-throw late in the third to cut the Clippers’ lead to 10.
A three from Johnson cut it to 7 heading into the fourth period. What a comeback from the Suns.
They started off hot in the fourth as well, with Johnson nailing another triple and Booker tossing in his own right over the head of George. A Booker free-throw a moment later put the Suns within 2.
By this point in the game the ball was completely popping around the perimeter, make or miss. Not only did the Suns do what it took to come back, they did it by getting back to what wins games for them. They will surely remember that as they move through the season.
The other big change we saw to start the final period was Paul starting on George defensively after it had been Booker and Bridges most of the game guarding George. It seemed to quiet George down for a few minutes before he nailed a post jumper over Paul and talked trash as Paul checked out at the next break. The next possession, Payne collapsed onto George as the Clippers star tried to shoot, and the two went at it in a real “hold me back” moment.
George and Booker were given technical fouls in addition to Payne’s foul on the floor, so nobody shot free throws and the ball stayed with LA.
Once again, Ayton also struggled with fouls, and picked up his fifth with 5:55 to go. With Saric already pushing 20 minutes, Monty opted to go miniature, with Crowder at center.
When Ayton came back in, the switching that served the Suns so well through the first six games didn’t work out when it was George handling the ball. Ayton didn’t have the same size and length advantage, meaning George could still get to his spots for good looks.
George was dominant all night and finished 15-24 from the field and 7-10 from deep.
Late in the game, the Suns consistently got good looks, including an open mid-range jumper for Booker, another for Paul, and a three for Booker. Even with Ayton active on the offensive glass and those open shots, George and the Clippers did just enough to keep it out of reach and seal the victory.