The Suns took control of the Western Conference Finals with an 84-80 road win over the Clippers to go up 3-1 in the series.
Paul George picked up a foul on the first Suns’ offensive possession of the night when he had to swipe down on Deandre Ayton at the rim for an and-one. George also missed his first two threes.
Overall, the Suns scored pretty effectively to open the game, with 10 points in the first 2:15. They were aggressive getting to the basket both in the halfcourt and in transition and attacking Ivica Zubac in the process.
While the Suns got into a better groove, the Clippers stayed cold, starting 4-14 from the field and 1-7 from deep. That helped Phoenix get out to a 20-9 lead.
The chippyness returned quickly to the series when George absorbed a hard foul from Devin Booker with 3:43 to go in the first and had some words for Book. He got in Book’s face for a second and then as they got tangled up, George shoved him, earning at technical foul. It continued when Cameron Payne and Terance Mann got testy after another foul, with Payne getting a tech this time.
The first ended in a 29-20 Suns lead, with Los Angeles shooting just 28 percent from the field but staying in the game with six offensive rebounds (three from Zubac).
Ayton had a pretty highlight to put an exclamation mark on the second period:
"The Phoenix Suns.. ROLLING early."#NBAPlayoffs on ESPN pic.twitter.com/mLZbPt54ae— NBA (@NBA) June 27, 2021
We also saw a change to the rotation, with the return of Abdel Nader, who played ahead of Torrey Craig, and Cam Johnson getting a nice, long run and rewarding Monty Williams with some really strong play.
The Clippers went through a six-minute dry spell with bad shot selection and poor ball movement. George wasn’t able to bail them out.
Booker picked up his third foul with 2:49 left in the first half, his frustration clearly mounting, and left the game. The Clippers made a tiny run to close the half, going back to the locker room down just 12.
Ayton played extremely well on both ends, with with 15 points and nine rebounds:
Deandre Ayton is having one of the best games of his life. Dominant defense in the paint, altering everything. And doing all that’s asked of him on offense—screening, rolling, finishing. The turnaround jumper could be a preview of his future with the Suns. pic.twitter.com/aHYbFgmvVJ— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) June 27, 2021
To open the second half, the Clippers funneled a lot of their action to Booker, back on the court with three fouls. Yet rather than the Suns getting into trouble, it was the Clippers who repeatedly fouled Phoenix, and the Suns got into the bonus around the 8:30 mark.
Booker missed a point blank layup right after that and proceeded to finally remove his mask. Also Beverley got T’d up, his third personal foul of the game.
And that’s when Chris Paul turned it on. He had seven points in the first few minutes of the period, coaxing Zubac out of the paint for his signature mid-range jumper.
POINT GOD GAMES pic.twitter.com/u6g3AkWkvh— Matt Petersen (@TheMattPetersen) June 27, 2021
But just when it seemed that Paul smelled blood, the Suns missed a few jumpers and the Clippers turned them into points on the other end. Phoenix stayed afloat with some big-time Ayton offensive boards, but the run culminated with a three by Reggie Jackson to cut the Suns’ lead to just five.
REGGIE JACKSON CUTS IT TO 5 ON ESPN! @Suns 63@LAClippers 58— NBA (@NBA) June 27, 2021
Late 3Q.. #NBAWCF presented by AT&T pic.twitter.com/F3FFkL0sdw
Jackson kept cooking, making ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot when the Clippers really needed it. Soon, Nader checked in and was tasked with guarding him. The Suns also started trapping Jackson, but he got rid of the ball and Mann got a finish at the basket.
The Clippers went into the final period down just three, 69-66.
They went super small to open the fourth, with Nic Batum at center, George at the 4, plus Jackson, Beverley and Luke Kennard. It’s the same lineup they closed Game Two with. The Suns responded with some more Johnson minutes next to Bridges.
It hardly made any difference. Both teams missed seemingly everything they put up, and it didn’t matter who shot, who else was on the floor, or who was defending them. When Ty Lue called a timeout with 6:34 to go in the game, both teams were shooting worse than 36 percent from the field, and both already had at least ten turnovers.
that’s 16 missed shots in a row with 4 TOs/offensive fouls mixed in.— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) June 27, 2021
Related: the total score in the period after 5:30 of fourth quarter action was 4-2. Yikes.
Booker came back in and immediately picked up another foul on a Jackson drive, giving him five with 5:13 left. He stayed in the game.
Booker hit a big jumper a moment later to increase the Suns’ lead to three. Jackson responded with his own from basically the same place (the elbow), just on the opposite side of the floor. One point game, 75-74, with a Suns timeout at 4:56.
The slog continued until around the 2-minute mark when Booker got to the line and made both free throws to give the Suns a five-point lead. Beverley missed a corner three on the other end, then forced Booker into a travel/24-second violation.
The Suns went back to Booker the next time down, and what initially was called as a blocking foul on Beverley was challenged by Lue. The play was overturned, and Booker picked up a charge, his sixth and final foul.
Monty went to Torrey Craig for his very first minutes of the game to replace Booker. Mann immediately made a basket to bring the Clippers within three, and the Suns called a timeout.
With Zubac out of the game, Paul went into isolation mode against George at the top of the key but George fouled him. After an inbounds, Paul missed a jumper but Ayton came up with a huge rebound to keep the possession alive. Paul missed another jumper, and the ball caromed out of bounds, which was also reviewed.
The ball stayed with the Clippers, and the Suns opted to foul George rather than let L.A. run a play. George made both, and the Suns called a timeout. There was another bang-bang out of bounds play as Batum deflected it off of Payne, but the officials opted not to review this time.
Paul got the ball off the inbounds and the Clippers fouled him. He made both.
After a Clippers timeout down three, the Suns fouled again, and George missed the first then missed the second intentionally. Monty put Dario Saric into the game for rebounding, and Lue put in DeMarcus Cousins, but Saric fouled Cousins on the loose ball.
Cousins made the first, tried to miss the second on purpose, then had a free-throw violation when he crossed the line without his shot hitting the rim. The Clippers fouled Paul as well, and he missed the second, and Craig immediately fouled George again.
The free throw charade continued as George responded with one more make, then missed again, but the Suns again secured the rebound, made two more free throws, and clinched a win.