Clippers forced to take pop quiz in Phoenix, and questions got tougher – Orange County Register
Algebra 2 is more difficult than Algebra 1. The steps at the top of the flight are more demanding than those at the bottom.
Phoenix represents another degree of difficulty for the Clippers, even when playing without inadequate rehearsal, even when television programmers play them at lunchtime. This, of course, is the way it is worded.
On Sunday, the Suns scored 120 points without Chris Paul, the 36-year-old scoutmaster who was credited with grabbing this dusty franchise from the backhands and pulling it to the No. 2 seed. of the Western Conference. Either he was doing a great job with the joystick, at home with Jake and Cliff and Sabrina, or he’s a much better and more resourceful team than we’ve been told.
Still, the Clippers took the hits and kept coming, to the point that Terance Mann’s 3-pointer cut the lead to two with 22 seconds left. Then Devin Booker took advantage of a defensive problem on an inbounds play and had another shot, and Phoenix took a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals, 120-114.
“We did well,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We will be better.”
It was reminiscent of the first two second-round series losses to Utah, in which the top-seeded Jazz controlled most of the game and the Clippers slipped another flurry in the end before the bell.
The Clippers dismissed the fatigue factor, likely because the question was superfluous. Of course, that played a part, as evidenced by their 34.8 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and their willingness to take the questionable first available shot, instead of penetrating the defense like they did on the return of Friday evening to close the Jazz.
Still, they got 34 points off their bench, with DeMarcus Cousins reeling in years during an 11-point second quarter. It was more of a defensive issue, with Booker moving away from 18-foot range in the second half and finishing with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
Cameron Payne, normally Paul’s backup, also had nine assists and gave the Suns a jagged advantage. That’s 31 assists for the Suns against seven turnovers. Who would have thought that Kawhi Leonard would be more difficult to replace, in the very short term, than Paul?
Leonard is out with a sprained knee and no one should expect to see him on Tuesday. The Clippers could have used his defense on Sunday. They were leading, 84-78, when Booker began his midrange mischief, scoring Phoenix’s next 10 points and really not letting up until Cam Johnson’s offensive rebound (which the Clippers thought was interference basket) establishes a 105-95 lead.
The Clippers have had high pick-and-rolls for several seasons. It’s different because of the Suns’ picker-and-roller, 6-foot-11 DeAndre Ayton. “He’s more nimble, a better finisher than the big guys we’ve faced,” said Paul George.
If the Clippers use Ivica Zubac in these situations, they have a hard time fighting the pick-and-roll, and if they don’t, Ayton is far more willing than Rudy Gobert to bring down the thunder on the little ones who do. pretend to defend him.
Although Dallas’ Luka Doncic is still the best player the Clippers have faced in the playoffs, he didn’t get enough help. Although Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is the most explosive long-range scorer the Clippers or anyone else will meet, Booker is more versatile and sophisticated.
And the Suns are a much better passing team than Dallas or Utah, especially inside the lane. Add the lanky presence of Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder to bother George (34 of 10 points on 26 shooting), and the Clippers definitely know they’ve been sent to the next level.
“We gave them some comfort,” Reggie Jackson said. “We have to smother them, in the next game. There’s a lot of movie viewing to come.
What the Clippers can’t do is give away basketballs. Jackson was cruising by car when he attempted to return the ball to an undetermined white jersey. Bridges, whose versatility is exceeded only by his upside, stole the pass and slammed it on the other end. That created a nine-point lead for Phoenix with 2:38 left. The Clippers had six of their nine turnovers in the second half, and the Suns had none in the fourth quarter.
“I had five turnovers and that’s five possessions, a 15-point opportunity that we didn’t have,” Jackson said, showing the league’s new tendency to measure everything by threes.
The Clippers seemed unfazed by the loss. George said they are used to building their game over a series and finding ingenious ways to escape their captors. That hasn’t changed, but this time the gate could be heavier, the moat deeper.