The atmosphere inside the Staples Center on Thursday for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals was different. The Phoenix Suns had backed the Los Angeles Clippers into a corner as they carried a 2-0 lead into the contest. Game 3 was the chance to essentially put the cigarette butt out. It was the Clippers, however, who came out smoking.
Los Angeles wasn’t on fire statistically. They shot 36.6% from the field in the first half. The squad that was the best three-point shooting team in the NBA this season shot a measly 17.6% from beyond the arc. They trailed Phoenix by two as they exited into the tunnels.
What the Clippers did do was set the pace physically. They were the aggressor. They attacked the basket. They gobbled up the rebounds. They had the hustle. They forced the whistles.
You noticed it. I noticed it. Monty Williams noticed. “We didn’t play with the desperation necessary to win a game like that,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said after the game. “They played with a great deal of desperation, 50-50 balls, attacking the offensive glass, attacking the rim. They played hard in every segment of the game. We didn’t play as hard consistently, and so you have to tip your hat to them. They brought it tonight for more of the 48 minutes than we did.”
The lack of effort from the Phoenix Suns was visible. The team was not as engaged as they were behind their home crowd. When that occurs, when you stop hustling for the ball, the opposition has the opportunity to take advantage. And the Clippers did just that.
On the play below, Patrick Beverly snaked his way to an offensive rebound. Notice the lack of a physical box out from Deandre Ayton. Observe that Cameron Johnson goes for the rebound with his arms, not his body. The result of this lack of effort? A second opportunity for Los Angeles, which ended up being a three-pointer by Reggie Jackson.
The return of Chris Paul to the starting lineup allowed Monty to reset the rotations for the Suns. Cameron Payne, an aggressive player in his own right, would return to the second-team unit and assist in sparking that group. We’ve seen it numerous times throughout the year: the first-team crew would struggle only to have the second platoon enter and set the pace. Payne has excelled in this role and it has been one of the success stories of the season. Phoenix has the ability to sustain offensive and defensive pressure when Payne spells Paul and Booker.
Unfortunately, with 35.7 seconds left in the first quarter, Payne tweaked his ankle and ultimately had to leave the game.
Injury update: Cam Payne (left ankle) will not return.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) June 25, 2021
In a game in which the intensity level was high, and the Phoenix Suns could not match it, losing a player like Cameron Payne was detrimental to their success. I thought surely we would see the insertion of Jevon Carter heading into the second quarter.
I thought wrong. Monty began the second quarter with both Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the floor for the first three minutes. A guy who hadn’t played in 11 days due to COVID and a guy rocking a mask and a broken nose. This is where I feel an opportunity was lost. Not for the next few minutes — the Suns were a +3 with Paul and Booker on the court in the first few minutes of the second quarter and the team was +10 in the second quarter overall — but the impact was felt for the rest of the game.
The Clippers wore Phoenix out by the third quarter. The substitution pattern that Monty deployed was good for a few minutes early, but not sustainable for the entire game. When he finally added a third guard to the rotation — E’Twaun Moore with 4:34 left in the third — the Suns were down 13.
“We’ll re-evaluate how we’re going to attack them,” Monty stated in his post game presser. “Like I said earlier, it was hard on Chris because I had to leave him out there for a longer stretch. And during that stretch in the third, they made a run, so I left him out there longer. And that was a tough spot for me to put (Suns backup guard) E’Twaun (Moore) in. So not having Cam to spell Chris put us in a bit of a bind, but hopefully he can come back and play in the next game.”
I know I’ve been beating the drum for Jevon. And I know his addition to the lineup does not automatically equate to a victory. But I do believe that, especially with Cameron Payne potentially out for Game 4 (we currently do not know his status or his ability to be explosive), he can add a level of grit the team is currently lacking.
How do you get the nickname, “The Bulldog”? Toughness. Tenacity. Aggressiveness.
Now that I think about it, does a bulldog possess all of these qualities? I thought they were short, little dogs that slobbered and had a hard time breathing. What do I know. I own a German Shepherd and a chiweenie. Pardon me for my tangent.
Jevon Carter has earned the Bulldog nickname as he personifies all of the attributes listed above. He is an annoyance to the opposition, a player who makes an effort to ensure that you earn every inch of hardwood.
His size may be the reason Monty has yet to pull the trigger. The 6’1” Carter is smaller than the 6’3” Moore. The guards for the Clippers that he would be tasked with guarding, Reggie Jackson (6’2”), Patrick Beverly (6’1”), or Rajon Rondo (6’1”), aren’t dwarfing him by any means.
Some may have a longer wingspan, as Bright Sider sun-arc noted in my previous “Please play Jevon” piece, which could result in easier jump shots for those individuals.
This is a valid point. Perhaps putting Jevon into the lineup will allow easier shots for the Clippers. But what Jevon brings is more than a size advantage/disadvantage. He brings an attitude. He brings heart.
Attitude is what the Suns were missing on Thursday night. We’ve seen this team and how they rally around each other, especially on the defensive end. When one of their teammates pressures the opposition into a turnover, it’s generally easy points on the other end. Those easy points get the team engaged and provide them energy.
I should really be the president of the Jevon Carter fan club. I always think his presence helps this team. I gave him the nickname “C4” two seasons due to his last name and jersey number. And he is explosive.
You gotta let the dog eat. Give Jevon a chance for 5 minutes in the second. See what he does. See if he is a disruptor. See if he can match the intensity of Patrick Beverly. Who knows? He might drop a couple of quick three-pointers.