With Paul George sidelined for the series with a knee injury, news came out midday Thursday that his running mate and two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard would not be suiting up either.
Los Angeles Clippers have ruled Kawhi Leonard out of tonight’s Game 3 matchup against the Phoenix Suns due to a right knee sprain.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) April 20, 2023
The Clippers were without 47.6 collective points-per-game with Kawhi and PG13 on the pine. It was Norman Powell who ultimately stepped up in Leonard’s place, scoring 42 points. Russell Westbrook added 30, but their two-man show wasn’t enough to stop the Suns. They finished with 18 turnovers that led to 25 Suns’ points.
Ultimately this game came down to the efficient and aggressive play of Devin Armani Booker. His scoring effort tied him for the second most 30+ point playoff games in Suns’ postseason history, tying him with Amare Stoudemire with 14. Charles Barkley is first with 16.
Booker was fantastic. Again. It was his 5th 40+ point postseason game in his career. He is now averaging 36.3 points for the series.
Kevin Durant added 28 points as all starters for the Suns had double-digit scoring performances. Phoenix shot 46 free throws in the game, their most on the season.
The win gives Phoenix a 2-1 series edge and the inside lane to advancing.
For the third consecutive game, the Suns allowed the Clippers to get the jump on them. An early 6-0 run put Phoenix behind, as per usual in this series.
It was a game filled with early turnovers by both teams and continuity was non-existent. “Disheveled” is how Eddie Johnson described it, and after a 14-2 run by Los Angeles, the Suns once again found themselves in a familiar spot: losing in the first quarter.
Behind the efforts of Devin Booker, who scored 13 in the first, Phoenix weathered the early storm. Despite committing two fouls in the period, Booker played all twelve minutes, shooting 5-of-10 from the field.
Of course Marcus Morris hit an off-balanced miracle three-pointer as time expired. Game tied 27-27 after one.
Marcus Morris banks it from the corner— NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2023
Live on NBA TV pic.twitter.com/GsuRJFCTOI
Booker’s elite shotmaking was on display to start the second as he was hitting turn around jumpers and fadeaways while being fouled. He finally sat with 8:59 in the half.
Monty rolled out a lineup consisting of Chris Paul, Damion Lee, Josh Okogie, T.J. Warren, and Deandre Ayton. Raise your hand if you’ve seen that combo this year. I’ll wait.
The Clippers began targeting Warren on defense, so Monty countered by bringing KD back in.
Physical play was occurring on both ends of the floor, as it typically is in the postseason. Phoenix, with Okogie on the floor, began attacking the cyclometer with more frequency and were rewarded for their efforts with the whistle. The Clippers had 12 free-throw attempts to the Suns’ 11.
Marcus Morris, Sr., who has yet to play in the series, was hit with a tech for his response following a foul he committed on JO.
The Clippers continued to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc as they have throughout the entire series, and it was their ability to do so that kept them in the game. That and sloppy basketball by the Suns.
Norman Powell, who got the start in place of Kawhi Leonard, was the primary offensive option for the Clippers. He was hitting threes, getting to the mid-range, and finished with 22. No other Clipper had more than 9.
It was a sloppy first half as both teams were turning the ball over throughout. Booker had 21 first half points, KD added 14, and the Suns carried a precarious three-point lead into the locker room, up 54-51.
Phoenix opened the second half with an 8-2 run, extending their lead to 9 points, before Norman Powell once again hit a three-pointer. How did Devin respond? With an elite three of his own.
The aggression that the Clippers played with in the first half caught up with them in the third, as the whistle began to be heard more and more. It was clear what Ty Lue’s strategy was: overplay on defense and attempt to disrupt the Phoenix attack. While it forced Phoenix into turnovers in the first half, that over-aggression began to morph into fouls and attempts at the line.
The Suns outshot the Clippers from the free throw line in the third quarter, 21-4.
With Los Angeles being penalized for the over aggression, the Suns offense began to open up. Phoenix was allowed to create space to take shots, and they began to increase their lead.
Defense led to offense, which led to some impressive fast breaks. Even one in which Kevin Durant took the ball, too, as Kevin and Ray stayed on the broadcast, the boom room.
The Suns had their lead as high as 13 points. Booker scored 13 in the third. After three, Suns up 94-85.
The Clippers started the fourth 7-of-8 from the field, shrinking the Phoenix lead with their efficient scoring. The blitzes from the Los Angeles defense continued as they attempted to jump passes and disrupt Phoenix. Their small lineups created speed mismatches, and with Deandre Ayton having an uneasy game, the Suns didn’t take advantage of their size mismatch on the interior.
Ayton when he gets the ball pic.twitter.com/xkk1sX5u1Z— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) April 21, 2023
The Clippers kept coming.
With 2:07 left, Los Angeles pulled to within 5 points as they continued to pester and prod the Suns. Deandre Ayton was fouled on the next possessions and missed two free throws. to compound matters, Torrey Craig fouled Russ on the rebound, which put him on the line. Unlike DA, he hit his free throws and got the Clippers within 3.
Craig made up for it with a huge hit from three to respond, and after a Booker block on Westbrook, and a key offensive rebound by Ayton, Booker went to the line with a crucial and-one.
It was free throws there on out. Suns win 129-124.
The series continues in Los Angeles on Saturday, with the game tipping off at 12:30pm. Looks like we’ll be day drinking. See you then!