Who: Los Angeles Clippers (1-3) at Phoenix Suns (3-1)
What: Game 5, Round 1, Western Conference, 2023 Playoffs
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona, TNT
Listen: 98.7 FM
DraftKings Betting line: Suns favored by 12.5 points
The injured Los Angeles Clippers are on the ropes and the Phoenix Suns, with a 3-1 series lead, can close out the series in Game 5 tonight on their home court.
The series has been a test of health, just as many predicted. All of the top five players in the series — Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul — were All-NBA the last time they played enough regular season games to qualify, but none of them reached that games-played threshold this year. Not one.
Those injury issues are why a pair of teams many picked in the preseason to meet in the Western Conference Finals this May were instead facing off in a first round matchup that would send one of them to an early summer vacation.
The Suns got healthy in time for the playoffs, but the Clippers did not. That’s basically your 3-1 series lead by the Suns, heading into a closeout Game 5 where they are favored by 12.5 points.
Probable Starting Lineups for Game 5
- Suns: Cameron Payne (back) is PROBABLE for the first time all series
- Clippers: Paul George (knee) and Kawhi Leonard (knee) are both OUT
Players (including only the last two games for the Clippers, since Kawhi Leonard went down)
The Russell Revival is Rolling! Color us at least a little surprised that former MVP and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook appears to have rolled back the clock half a dozen years to his old superstar self in this series.
Westbrook’s stat line in this series: 26 points per game on 46/41/88 shooting splits, plus 7.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.
He hasn’t posted a playoff line like this since his prime MVP-level years, and a couple of these stats are career highs in the playoffs: 1.8 blocks, and 51.1% Effective Field Goal % (which includes extra credit for threes).
This from the guy who’s been passed around the league in recent years like a modern-day Luke Ridnour — 6 teams in the last 5 years, from OKC to Houston to Washington to Lakers to Utah to the scrap heap — and now is playing on a minimum salary deal with the Clippers and will be a free agent this summer.
Big props to Russ for reviving his career a bit here with the Clippers. Too bad he can’t re-sign with them this summer unless he takes just a tiny bit over the league minimum, due to Bird Rights and salary cap constraints.
The Suns have been able to beat the Clippers three straight times, despite Russell’s incredible run, because no one else is consistently stepping up for the Clippers in the wake of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s injuries.
Some of the Suns team stats (above) are truly shocking. Very un-Sunsian.
Free throws: After generating the 4th fewest free throws in the league in this year (21.7 per game), they are now leading all playoff teams with 30.0 per game in the first round of these playoffs. What!? This is partly a product of having Kevin Durant in your lineup for 43 minutes a night (he gets >6 per night on average), and partly due to the Clippers sell-out physicality to try to throw the Suns off their game. That’s not working out for the Clippers, as the Clippers have posted the 2nd worst defense in these playoffs.
Steals: The Suns generating 9.0 steals per game, good for 3rd among playoff teams. They are led by Devin Booker’s playoff-leading 2.8 per game, with Chris Paul’s 3rd-most 2.3 per game close behind.
Blocks: The Suns are also 2nd in blocks, at 6.8 per game. It’s a collective effort, with Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Bismack Biyombo and Deandre Ayton all averaging 0.8+ per game.
FG% and 3PA Allowed: Despite the steals and blocks, the Suns are only 9th among 16 teams on defense because they’re allowing the Clippers to post the 6th-best shooting (46.3%) and 9th-most three point attempts (33.3) after a regular season in which they were among the league’s stingiest in both categories.
Minutes played: Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are playing more than 43 minutes per game in this first round, ranking first and second among all players in minutes played. Even Chris Paul is playing 38.8 minutes, ranking 10th. Considering two of those players are 34 years or older, you’d think that’s a problem. But both Paul and Durant claim their minutes are less taxing than usual because they’re both playing off-ball, hanging in the corner like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson used to do for more possessions a game than they’ve ever done before. We’ll see how they hold up under big minutes the rest of these playoffs.
More Payne: Booker and Paul will be helped by the imminent return of Cam Payne, who’s improving from his nasty fall before the playoff started that left him with a sore back. He’s now PROBABLE for Game 5, an upgrade from the QUESTIONABLE/OUT status he’s had all playoffs until now. Payne will absorb a handful of minutes from each of Paul and Booker. Remember when he had 29 and 9 with 0 turnovers against these Clippers in Game 2 of the 2021 WCF? Yeah. I’d be happy with 10 and 3 and a positive plus/minus.
Better bench play please: We can complain about Monty Williams suddenly ignoring his bench in this series, but “we” had better not be the same people who complained about playoff losses in previous seasons because Williams stubbornly stuck to his regular season rotations. The bench was abjectly bad in the Game 1 loss, costing the Suns home court advantage before they could even catch their breath. So we need to thank Monty Williams for changing tactics, sticking longer with the starters and winning three straight games. What I’d like to see is the bench players playing well, NOT losing the lead in the first half, and allowing Monty to trust them with more minutes the rest of the way. Cam Payne, Josh Okogie, Bismack Biyombo and Damion Lee — no more than 3 at a time! — need to step up when given the chance.
Keys to a Suns win
- Keep pounding the rock — stay focused and play steady, closing it out in the fourth
- Get up a few more threes — Suns are last in three point attempts in these playoffs
- Figure out how to contain Russell Westbrook, even if that only means minimizing three-point play chances
Keys to a Clippers win
- Get 30+ from both Russ and another player
- Get away with ultra physicality without being called incessantly for the fouls you’re committing
- Rebound, take care of the ball and make a bunch of shots at the rim
The Suns have everything on their side to win this game. They’ve got the star power, the home crowd and the momentum. The only way you lose this game is by failing to show up mentally. I think the Suns close this one out easily.
Suns win, 130-110.