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Rapid Recap: Suns lose, 115-110, in playoff opener on Kawhi Leonard’s monster game

Leonard had 38 points, and made sure the Clippers never lost their composure when the Suns re-took the lead

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns started the game really slow, but a 15-0 run in the third quarter put them in the lead, 77-68.

But Kawhi Leonard would not let the Los Angeles Clippers go away, and was the best player on the floor the whole night. But in the end it was Russell Westbrook making timely defensive plays to help the Clippers stave off the Suns in Phoenix.

Clippers win, 115-110.

Kawhi Leonard had 38 points in 42 big minutes. He was incredible with his shot making over tight defense. The Clippers had 14 offensive rebounds and 10 extra shots, including some killer one in the final minutes of the third and fourth quarters.

Kevin Durant had 27 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds for the Suns. Devin Booker added 26 points and 3 assists. Torrey Craig was great in his role, adding 22 points and forcing Kawhi to take very tough shots (he just made them). Chris Paul missed 8 of 10 shots, but had 10 assists and 11 rebounds.

First Half

The Suns got open threes on their first three possessions, missing all of them, but showing how they can get the shots against the Clippers defense. The corner and transition threes are the best ones to take. Finally on their fourth possession, Paul lobbed it in to Ayton over Russell Westbrook for the jam and the fans were able to take a seat.

It should be noted that Durant spent the first few minutes standing on the wing, only touching the ball once on a catch-and-shoot and once in transition.

The Clippers took a 16-10 lead on the back of 6 of 11 shooting, including 3-4 on threes. Eric Gordon of the Clippers has started this game making 4 of 5 shots for 10 of the Clippers 16 points. Meanwhile the Suns made only 4 of 11 shots despite just about every shot being wide open. Like, wide open. Timeout, Suns.

Suns pulled back to 20-17 on a layup by Devin Booker, and I was struck by the fact that this was only the second shot at the rim out of 18 shots taken so far. Everything else has been a jumper — so of course you’re going to have some variance, and that explains the 7 for 19 start in shooting. 2-2 within 3 feet. 5 for 17 beyond that.

When the Suns went down 30-18 after one quarter, there were lots of ‘oh no’ vibes about how this team can’t get over the playoff malaise, and they were still down 35-19 before starting to play like a team that has to work for wins. No one’s handing wins out, fellas.

The Suns outscored the Clippers 35-24 to close the quarter — not earth shattering, but enough to pull the deficit back to a manageable five points, 59-54, at halftime. Kevin Durant had 17 points in the second quarter.

Second Half

The Suns opened the second half with a lot more purpose. Not with the force they showed the last few minutes of the second quarter to come back to life, but with more purpose and focus than they started the game with.

Still, the Clippers kept the lead partially on Russell Westbrook offsetting his terrible shooting (2 for 13 now) with offensive rebounds to keep Clippers possessions alive longer than they should have.

The Suns finally tied the game, 68-68, with 7 minutes left in the third quarter, and took the lead on a Chris Paul offensive rebound to Torrey Craig for a go-ahead layup. Devin Booker is now up to 22 points, and has made 5 of his last 6 shots. Craig is now up to 16 points on 7-10 shooting. He’s been really great in this one, also making Kawhi Leonard work hard to get his shots on single coverage.

The lead jumped to 6 on an Ayton middy, after Chris Paul made one of his own patented middy, putting the Suns up 74-68 to force yet another Clippers timeout. A Craig three put the Suns up 77-68 before a Russell Westbrook layup broke the Suns 15-0 run.

The Clippers inched back, thanks to four missed free throws late in the third quarter (two by Landale, two by Booker). They tied the game at 79-79, forcing Durant back on the court to close the quarter.

Suns and Clippers tied, 81-81, after three.

Kawhi Leonard, who has played 32 of 36 possible minutes so far, opens the 4th with an and-one middy to give the Clippers an 84-81 led. Durant tied it a minute later on a second-chance three. The Clippers scored the next two times down to take a 88-84 lead.

Leonard finally sat for the first time all half with 9:52 left in the third with 30 points and an 88-86 lead. He sat for 2.5 minutes but the Suns couldn’t take the lead. In fact, it was 95-92 Clippers as Kawhi checks in.

The Suns just couldn’t take control of the game through half the fourth quarter despite Kevin Durant being generally incredible. He’s nearly up to a triple double — 24 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds.

Chris Paul is only 2 of 6 from the field (though he has 8 assists and 9 rebounds). The bench is only 3 of 10.

With 5:32 left in the 4th, the Suns down 97-96.

Russell Westbrook got a block from behind on Ayton, then poked it from Devin Booker on the Suns next two possessions, and the Clips used a three-point play to take a 100-96 lead. Torrey Craig responded with a three-point play of his own, off a Devin Booker steal, to get it back to 100-99.

The Suns played some really good defense to stop the Clippers scoring, but couldn’t make a shot of their own. Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton both missed open middys.

And then the Clippers made three straight threes to take a 109-103 lead with under 1:30 left, and FINALLY Kevin Durant got a shot (he’s only taken 15 all night, compared to 23 for Leonard) and drained the three.

A pair of Chris Paul free throws pulled the Suns back to 109-108 with 1:08 to go.

But on the next possession that Suns couldn’t get a defensive rebound, giving LA three separate cracks at it with the rebound bouncing out of bounds off the Suns each time. Now it’s 28.8 seconds left, Suns down one. And the Clippers still have the ball.

Westbrook, who has missed 16 of 19 shots, got a pair of free throws with 17.7 seconds left and drained them both. Because of course. Suns down 3 with 17.7 seconds left. He then blocked Devin Booker on a drive, knocking it out off the Suns.


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