In the Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers, two heavyweights duked it out for the third time this season. The winner gets a ticket to the playoffs, while the loser has to wait for another day.
This time, the Chris Paul landed the biggest punches in a pivotal stretch of three buckets that pushed a tiny one-point lead to seven, 99-92, and the Suns never looked back. The Clippers were scratching and clawing, but Paul was having none of it.
Paul drained a pair of free throws with under two minutes left to the put the Suns up 105-96 while the crowd chanted “MVP MVP MVP”. They did it again with 40 seconds left, as Paul put them up 109-98.
In between, as the Suns had grabbed two offensive rebounds and Paul danced at mid-court bouncing the ball, the crowd was deafening in cheers. They KNEW this was a big battle.
All game, the crowd was into it. The Suns were into it. These games against the Clippers are such high level of basketball by both teams it’s staggering. They each just know how to get under each other’s skin and make the tough shots.
Chris Paul finished with 28 points, 10 assists and 3 steals. Five other Suns had at least 10 points in a balanced, hard-fought win, led by Devin Booker’s 21 points. Cameron Payne was a spark plug off the bench (15 points) and Frank Kaminsky had 13.
Suns win, 109-101.
And they have CLINCHED their first playoff appearance in 11 years.
“More to do, more to come,” Monty Williams said afterward.
The Suns are now 44-18 on the season with the second-best record in the NBA.
How it happened
The Suns started out 6-0 on a pair of threes — Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges — but the Clippers made their next four after the early misses to stay right there in the game.
Former Suns Marcus Morris — amid a din of boos from fans — made a pair of three-point plays after an early miss.
The Suns got up to 15-10 lead anyway, thanks to Devin Booker being HOT (3 for 4) and Bridges somehow being even hotter — 2 threes, 2 rebounds and a big block in the fire four minutes.
Both teams stayed on FIRE on offense, totally focused on execution and scoring nearly every time. Felt like they were shooting 90%.
Finally, the Clips missed a couple and the Suns got some separation, up 29-20 to force a Ty Lue timeout. At this point, the Suns are shooting 65% (including 80% on threes), so I can see why.
Suns were up 39-31 after one quarter. Cam Payne came in to score 11 huge points (3/4 on threes plus a middy), while Devin Booker led the starters with 9.
The lead got down from 14 to 8 in the final minutes of the first thanks to a pair of threes by Paul George. He’s now made 16 of 22 threes against the Suns this year, and had 15 of the Clippers 31 points in the opening quarter. He doesn’t like the Suns.
Suns pulled out to a bigger lead while Paul rested — up to 53-39 — but his return sparked a resurgence from the Clippers with a 10-0 run before Devin Booker created himself a 3-point play to stop the bleeding.
But this was really the Frank Kaminsky run. Frank played the quarter bridge and then the last four minutes of the first half... and produced a Suns-high 13 points and a pair of rebounds in 12 minutes of action. (Ayton had 2 fouls, so it’s nice to rely on another big guy!).
Suns up 63-53 at half, shooting 55% from the field (53% on threes) vs the Clippers own 50/50 shooting line. The main difference was the Suns getting 6 more shots than the Clips thanks to fewer turnovers (4 to 7) and more offensive boards (4 to 2). Suns also had a big advantage on points in the paint (24 to 16).
The Suns came out firing again, but then the Clippers starting mucking things up and pulled within 6 on a weird sequence of plays that resulted in a 7-0 Clippers run that could have been stopped at several points by the refs... who just let them play though fouls, travels and more.
Through the third quarter, the Clippers kept trying to shake the Suns focus, but that’s when Chris Paul stepped up like his superstar self again and made several straight shots to keep the Clippers at 8 to 10 back.
But then the Clippers second unit once again came in and made some shots, pulling the Clippers back to within 4 a couple of times.
Cam Payne made a hustle play circus shot to put the Suns back up 6 at the end of three, 86-80.
The Clippers scrapped their way, driven by Terrance Mann’s manic energy, back to within one point a few times before Chris Paul decided... no, this is MY house and made three straight shots to put the Suns back up 99-92 with 4:42 to play.