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WCF Game 5 Preview: Keys for the Suns to close out the LA Clippers

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Phoenix Suns can clinch the franchise’s third trip to the NBA Finals on Monday

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NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff round: Western Conference Finals (Suns lead 3-1)

What: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns, Game 5

When: Monday, 6:00 PM

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona and ESPN

Listen: 98.7 FM


For only the 4th time in the Phoenix Suns 54 year history, the Suns are one win away from making the NBA Finals.

And for the first time in the Clippers 50-year history, they are three wins away from an NBA Finals berth.

Tonight’s Game 5 is the Suns first closeout chance in a Western Conference Finals since 1993. As a franchise, the team is 2-3 all-time in closeout chances to make the NBA Finals — 1-0 in 1976, 0-2 in 1979 and 1-1 in 1993. None of those teams ever had a 3-1 lead like this current Suns team does.

So far in these playoffs, the Suns are 2-0 in closeout chances — beating the Lakers 113-100 in Game 6 in LA in the first round, then the Nuggets 125-118 in Game 4 in Denver in the second round.

Stat Me: Suns guard Devin Booker scored 81 points in those two wins, the most points scored in a player’s first two career closeout chances since Michael Jordan (82 points in 1988). Only Wilt Chamberlain (81 points in 1960) joins these two with 81+ points in his first two closeout chances. Booker is the only one of the three to win both games. Jordan lost both, and Wilt split them. No player in history besides Devin Booker has done what Devin Booker has done so far.


1979, anyone?

We all remember (or at least know about) the 1976 and 1993 Finals appearances, but the Suns also came thisclose to making the NBA Finals in 1979 as well.

Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams, the catalysts to the magical 1976 late-season run, led a much better 1978-79 team to the brink of their second Finals in four seasons. Imagine the legendary status if that 70s core had made a pair of Finals appearances together? Alas, the Suns lost Alvan Adams to an ankle injury in the middle of the WCF, leaving them with only 6’7” 200 pound Joel Kramer to battle Hall-of-Famer Jack Sikma in the middle.

“Hopefully, I can play just as well as I did in the last game,” Kramer said at the Suns’ practice today.

Adams sprained his left ankle Sunday in the first quarter’s final minute. Kramer came in and played 30 minutes that were inspiring to his teammates and the crowd.

He made three of four shots, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists, three steals and two blocked shots as the Suns won their first in this series, 113-103.

“We were lulled into a false sense of security when Adams left the game,” Seattle’s Paul Silas said.

The Sonics kept going to 6-11 center Jack Sikma to take advantage of Kramer, but Kramer, with help from his teammates, forced Sikma into missing seven of the 10 shots he took in the final three periods. Sikma got only six rebounds, six below his average.

Despite taking a 3-2 series lead even with Kramer in the middle, the 3rd seeded Suns lost the last two games by a grand total of five points. Ahhh, what might have been if Alvan Adams had stayed healthy.

So you can add that injury to the Suns list of couldashoulda seasons that ended in hurt feelings and no ring.


Injured/out (primary rotation players only)

Suns — Abdel Nader (knee) is PROBABLE and already played in the last game

Clippers — Kawhi Leonard is OUT (knee, suspected ACL injury); day to day


Probable Starting Lineups


Keys to the game

Last time, I said the keys to the game involved making more shots. I reasoned that Devin Booker and Chris Paul could not combine to shoot 25% from the field (10-for-40) and that the team needed to make more than 30% of their threes if they wanted to beat a desperate Clippers team in LA.

So those two combined to shoot 31% from the field (14-for-44) and the team as a whole shot 20% on threes, and they beat the Clippers anyway. So what do I know?

What are the keys to winning tonight’s game in Phoenix, then?

Absorb the fans energy

Phoenix Suns Arena will be ROCKING on Monday night, no matter how expensive those tickets get. The Valley is producing an unreal level of excitement over this Suns team — funny what easy access to watching them on TV can do, eh? — and that excitement is exuded by those 16,000+ fans in attendance. Suns players have said over and over this season, as occupancy ramps up as post-pandemic-restrictions are lifted, that the fans have helped them win games with their pure energy.

Let’s do that again.

Keep taking those shots

I no longer care how many shots these guys take. Despite being in a horrific shooting slump, Devin Booker and Chris Paul combined to take 51% of the Suns shots on Saturday. Why? Because the Clippers defense wants the initial ball handler to take every shot. They switch every play to take away the ball handler’s passing lanes and secondary options. I just cannot believe Paul and Booker — who combine for 49% shooting this and every year — will continue to miss so many chances. If they start hitting what they’re given, this game won’t be close.

Keep up the defensive pressure

There’s only one way to overcome shooting 36% as a team, including 31% from your two stars, in a road playoff game: you need to lock down defensively. The Suns allowed only 32% shooting to the Clippers in the 84-80 win on Saturday.

I’m not suggesting the Suns will repeat that performance on defense. In fact, I expect the Clippers, who are the league’s best three-point shooting team, will come out guns blazing on Monday, as will the Suns. I just need the Suns to play thismuch better on defense than the Clippers.

Deandre Ayton will once again have to protect the paint like a madman, allowing the Suns other defenders to stay home on shooters. Those other defenders need to keep the Clippers in front of them (no blow-bys) and contest every three-point shot possible without fouling.


Prediction

It’s foolish to predict against the Suns anymore. Every single indication from this year and these playoffs tells me that the Suns will win tonight.