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Recap: Suns go cold at the wrong time, fall to Clippers and lose season tiebreaker

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Paul George led Los Angeles to a big win over the Suns.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Paul George scored 33 on seven made threes to lead the Clippers to a 113-103 win over Phoenix.

The game began as the last contest between these two teams ended, with George scoring and scoring and scoring more. He made two early threes and got into great rhythm, though the Suns were able to keep pace.

While Patrick Beverley started the game on Devin Booker, his primary defender ended up being Kawhi Leonard most of the night. That’s not something I expected to see the Clippers go to so consistently in this game, but it is in line with something else that became evident watching this game — that the Clippers wanted to send a message.

Much like Utah on Wednesday night, the Clips brought their A game and clearly were playing to win and gain ground in the West.

Fortunately for the Suns, the newly aggressive version of Deandre Ayton came to Los Angeles with the team, and the results showed early. Even against the burly Ivica Zubac, it was another great start from Ayton, who played confidently on offense and completely dominated on the boards again.

The Suns were down 4 heading into the second.

That’s when the Suns’ bench started to be an issue, as Dario Saric continued to struggle and Cameron Payne’s inexperience showed against the Clippers’ veteran backcourt. Both Payne and Saric were called for travels, and nobody seemed to infuse the offense with the juice it needed.

Also in the second period, Booker knocked knees with Leonard and looked to be in quite a bit of pain. Still, Booker stayed aggressive and continued to have a big impact on the game. After all those bumps this season, maybe Booker’s knees are sturdier? That’s what we’ll choose to believe.

The third was Leonard time, as the Clippers’ star played strong defense on Booker, took control of L.A.’s offense, and slammed home a monstrous dunk that made even Marv Albert sentimental about calling games from his basement.

After that, Leonard hit an impossible three over the outstretched hands of Saric, then with a two-point lead in his and the Clippers pocket, took the ball inside. Booker, not wanting to give an inch (and likely wanting to send a message), fouled Leonard hard.

The officials reviewed the play for a hostile act, and Booker was ultimately called for a flagrant 1 foul.

You can judge it for yourself:

Leonard made both free throws and then the Clippers got the ball back, but Patrick Patterson missed a three.

Booker continued to put pressure on L.A. after that as a scorer, but the Clippers maintained a narrow lead.

They went into the final frame up, 83-81.

Part of the problem for Phoenix is they went cold at a bad time, missing nine straight triples from the third quarter into the fourth, when Cameron Johnson missed the Suns’ first shot of the period. Maybe it was weak legs from the back to back, maybe just randomness, but it allowed the Clippers to take control of the game.

Jackson went down with 9:00 left in the third after taking a hand to the face from Torrey Craig. The bad part was Leonard came in early to replace him, which is definitely not the trade-off the Suns would have wanted.

Down 10 with 7:50 to go, the Suns finally brought in the rest of the starters to try to make one last run. A beat later, Beverley hit Paul with a hard foul and was called for a flagrant 2 of his own, which resulted in Beverley’s ejection.

Even with Beverley out from a defensive standpoint, the Clips continued to slow the game down and turn it into an isolation battle. They put Marcus Morris in at center and George went supernova, hitting back-to-back threes to give L.A. a 14-point lead with 4:30 to go.

The Suns stuck with Ayton but couldn’t get him the ball consistently and with the Clippers playing so flexibly on defense, the Suns’ offense devolved into iso ball, too. Mikal Bridges finally made a three with about 3:45 to go, but the damage was done by then.

The Suns never came within single digits again, as Leonard, George and Rondo took it home and gave L.A. a 113-103 win.