The LA Clippers (44-38) win over an intentionally depleted Phoenix Suns (45-37) team today ensured that the two teams would face off in the first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
The Suns played today without a plethora of rotation players, sitting starters Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton (rest) and several backups: Cameron Payne (tailbone bruise), Bismack Biyombo (knee strain), T.J. Warren (illness) from the opening tip. Torrey Craig played only the first five minutes of the game. That’s eight rotation players right there.
Meanwhile, the Clippers were playing their full rotation, minus the injured Paul George who has missed the last 9 games with a sprained right knee. He did not suffer serious ligament damage, but his knee was immobilized until a few days ago. He’s begun exercising on it again recently.
Still, the Suns had a second-half lead, so more players were given the afternoon off. Jock Landale and Landry Shamet only played the first seven minutes of the second half.
And yet the Suns still led the game after three quarters, 86-82. So the Suns pulled out all the stops. The whole final quarter would be played by five guys: Saben Lee, Darius Bazley, Damion Lee, Terrence Ross and Ish Wainright. Only an elbow to the face of Ish forced him out of action, with Josh Okogie coming off the bench the last 11 minutes.
The Suns otherwise made zero substitutions in the 4th quarter, as the Clippers starters finally turned a 4-point deficit into a 5-point win.
Two-way player Saben Lee — who’d played a TOTAL of 35 minutes in the past two months — played a career-high 44 minutes today and poured in a career high 25 points while dishing 9 assists. Darius Bazley — who had played a total of 34 minutes in the last 26 games — played almost 27 minutes in this one, producing 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Despite all the guys getting rest today (10 for the last 1.5 quarters), the Suns still had a lead halfway through the 4th before finally relinquishing it.
“I like that fact that we got after it today and played from a force and grit standpoint, we played to the Suns standards,” head coach Monty Williams said afterward.
The Suns players, no matter who was on the court, wanted to win this game. The Suns decision makers did the best they could to keep the most important players healthy...
“Yeah. I think anytime you can go into the playoffs with a level of health that’s close to 100 percent, you feel good about that,” Williams said.
But they also did the best they could to make a win as difficult as possible to pull off, playing only five of their bottom-roster guys all fourth quarter against the Clippers’ best.
Even Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged the Suns (and Blazers before them) efforts.
“A little help, you know,” Lue said when asked what it took to win the game. “I don’t know. I’m not talking about this game. It’s over. We’re in the playoffs and I want to focus on that.”
All to get the Clippers as their first round opponent while kicking the Golden State Warriors to the other side of the bracket entirely.
Now the Suns have it.
They will start their first round series next Sunday, with the starting time still to be determined but looking like the Suns-Clippers will be in prime time.
On one hand, the Clippers are a probably looking a little vulnerable right now, having barely beaten the uber-tanking Blazers yesterday (the same Blazers who lost by 56 to the Warriors today) and the uber-resting Suns today.
But on the other hand, the Clippers were originally picked to win the West this year because they have a pair of All-NBA talents in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and they’ve since added former MVP Russell Westbrook. The Clippers were 5-2 over their last 7 games with the trio in place after Westbrook for acclimated, before PG’s injury.
Still, all of the Warriors (6th), Lakers (7th) and Pelicans (8th) have been playing better than the Clippers (5th) as of late.
For what it’s worth, the early betting lines have the Suns favored. www.BetOnline.ag gives the Suns an 84.6% chance to win the series and Draftkings.com has the Suns a -600 to win the series.
Here’s all the matchups.
First, the Play-In Tournament will happen from Tuesday to Friday this week. In the West, the Lakers (7), Timberwolves (8), Pelicans (9) and OKC Thunder (10) made the Play-in Tourney. And just like last year, the Pelicans are coming on strong, but will need two wins this week to grab the 8th playoff spot.
The 2023 AT&T NBA Play-In Tournament schedule ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/M9izpVhaFP— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 9, 2023
Then the first round of the playoffs begins Saturday. Mikal Bridges’ Brooklyn Nets start all the action, taking on the 76ers in Philly at 11am AZ time. And the Phoenix Suns will close out the Game 1s with the prime time Sunday game at home.
#NBAPlayoffs First Round, Game 1 dates.— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 9, 2023
More information will be provided as it is finalized. pic.twitter.com/sBcjzZVLKq