|Time||9 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Wednesday evening and via BetMGM.|
The Los Angeles Clippers have proven to be a resilient bunch.
Entering Game 5 of this series, down 3-1 on the road, they were hit with yet another tough injury when Ivica Zubac was ruled out with a sprained MCL. Just as the Clippers have done all postseason they overcame adversity and found a way, defeating the Suns 106-92 to keep their season alive.
Now the series heads back to Staples Center for Game 6 with the Clippers listed at 1-point favorites. Can the Clippers once again stave off elimination to keep their title hopes alive or will Chris Paul lead the Suns to the NBA Finals?
Let’s analyze both sides and find out.
The Suns’ Offense Is Slowing Down
The Suns haven’t been the same team offensively during the past few games. After putting up Offensive Ratings of 130.5 and 115.9 in Games 1 and 2, their offense has completely fallen off a cliff, scoring just 100.1, 93.6 and 104.6 points per 100 possessions over the past three games.
The biggest difference in the Suns offense has been the pace, which has slowed down since Paul returned. They’re playing at just 93.39 with Paul on the floor vs 104.39 with him off the floor, which hasn’t resulted in efficient offense.
The slow pace has been mind boggling as they’re facing a fatigued and injured team in the Clippers who have nearly every other day for the past month. The Suns have often walked the ball up the court after made baskets while taking jumpers late in the shot clock.
Take a look at their halfcourt Offensive Rating in this series:
- Game 1: 120.0
- Game 2: 109.1
- Game 3: 77.6
- Game 4: 69.3
- Game 5: 92.1
Paul is in the midst of another All-NBA season, but his play in this series has left a lot to be desired. The Suns have scored 97.7 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the floor while scoring 112.5 points per 100 with him off the floor.
In four games against the Nuggets, Paul averaged 25.5 points, 10.3 assists ands 4.5 rebounds while shooting 62.7% from the field and a whopping 75% from behind the arc. Since retuning from health and safety protocols in Game 3, Paul hasn’t been nearly as productive as he’s averaging just 18.3 points on 31.7% shooting and 12.5% from behind the arc.
He’s still dishing out nine assists per game and grabbing three rebounds, but his scoring simply hasn’t been where it needs to be for the Suns to truly take over this series.
While he lit up the Nuggets from midrange, his jumper has completely failed him in this series as he’s just 19-of-60 from the field in the past three games. Since he cannot constantly get to the rim, if his jumper isn’t falling, he’s not nearly as efficient.
Devin Booker opened up the series with a 40-point triple double, dishing 11 assists and grabbing 13 rebounds but since then, things haven’t been easy for the 24-year-old All-Star. Since Game 2, Booker is averaging just 22.8 points on 33.3% shooting and 28.6% from behind the arc.
Although he scored 31 points in Game 5, it’s clear he’s bothered by the defense of Patrick Beverley. Paul and Booker have to play at the All-Star level they’ve played at this entire season if they want to close out this series.
Another cause for concern for the Suns is the lack of production from Deandre Ayton who was expected to dominate with Zubac sidelined. In Game 5 he scored just 10 points on nine shot attempts and the Suns were unable to make the Clippers pay for playing a small-ball lineup.
The Suns have made a living at the rim during this series, outscoring the Clippers by 58 points in the paint through the first four games of the series but in Game 5, they were outscored 58-32 despite the absence of Zubac.
Although the Suns are up 3-2, they’re lucky to have the lead in this series based on the way the offense has performed and if they don’t find answers in Game 6, there’s a chance that Paul will find himself in an elimination game to make the Finals.
The Clippers Won’t Go Away
There isn’t another coach you’d rather have with your back against the wall than Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue. With 51-28 record in the postseason, Lue has the fourth best playoff record among NBA head coaches who have coached at least 25 playoff games.
While his predecessor struggled to close out series, Lue is 10-2 (83.3%) in elimination games.
This is nuts:
Tyronn Lue when facing elimination:
10-2 record, best in NBA history by a head coach
(min. 10 games)
Tyronn Lue with chance to clinch series
12-1 record, best in NBA history by a head coach
(min. 10 games) pic.twitter.com/YCNiGhyXSh
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) June 29, 2021
His record speaks to his ability to remain calm under pressure, make adjustments and press those buttons until the opposing team figures it out. Lue put the Clippers in position to win even without Leonard, and they could actually be leading this series based on how it has played.
Not only did the Clippers lose Game 2 after two Paul George missed free throws and a subsequent game-winning Alley-oop, the Clippers have outscored the Suns 519-502 throughout the series. The Clippers also have a positive Net Rating with an Offensive Rating of 110.2 and a Defensive Rating of 106.8.
With Zubac missing in Game 5, the Clippers were able to capitalize by going to their small-ball lineup (George-Marcus Morris-Reggie Jackson-Beverley-Terance Mann) and spread the floor to create efficient offense. In the first half of Game 5 they had a Net Rating of 21.1 behind an Offensive Rating of 131.6 and a Defensive Rating of 110.5.
Jackson continues to be a bright spot for this Clippers team as he’s become the number two option with George forced to take the majority of the team’s shots.
He’s averaging 21.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 47.2% shooting and comes off a Game 5 performance in which he scored 23 points and made 4-of-7 3s. He has stepped up anytime the Clippers needed a basket throughout this postseason there’s no reason to assume it will stop.
Morris has finally looked healthy after struggling with knee issues but if he can just play to his regular season averages the Clippers have a real shot to force a Game 7.
Despite how well the Clippers have scored in this series, it does feel like they haven’t necessarily hit their peak yet. While we can’t count on George and Morris to shoot as efficiently as they did in Game 5, the team as a whole can still score a lot better. The Clippers were the top 3-point shooting team in the league (41.8%) and led the league in corner 3-point percentage (46.7%) this season. In this series, the Clippers are shooting just 34.1% from behind the arc and 29.7% on corner 3s.
I never like to approach a game thinking a team is due because, like Detective Freeman said in the Wire, you could find yourself waiting on moments that never come. Still, I can’t help but think the Clippers are on the verge of an offensive explosion given that they might be forced to play their small-ball lineup again. If those 3s don’t come, putting Ayton in space has worked out well as the Clippers scored 58 points in the paint in Game 5.
Although Cousins is a defensive liability, he’s had a positive impact when playing against the bench units as Dario Saric simply has no answer for his size inside. He added 15 points and provided he doesn’t play against the Suns’ starting units he can provide a boost for the Clippers.
On the other side of the ball, Beverley’s defense on Booker has completely changed this series. Beverley is holding Booker to 31% shooting and has caused 15 turnovers when they’ve shared the floor together. They’ve also done a solid job at defending Paul who has struggled to hit jumpers throughout this series.
The postseason schedule has done the Clippers no favors and George’s minutes are adding up — he’s played 735 minutes in the post season and the next closest is Devin Booker with 605. If the Clippers force a Game 7, you have to be worried about his ability to close as fatigue could set in.
I wrote an article about how much I loved the Clippers in February and why I thought they were good value to win both the Western Conference and NBA title.
While those bets looked dead in the water two days ago, this future is still alive and it truly speaks to Lue’s ability to make adjustments on both ends of the floor.
The Clippers have figured out how to defend the Suns on the defensive end of the floor and given the injury to Ivica Zubac, they’ve also figured things out offensively with their small ball lineup. With the Clippers coming home for a pivotal Game 6, I believe they have the edge against a Suns team that is struggling offensively.
The Clippers should be leading this series right now and have been the better team throughout this series. With my model having home court advantage at 5.25 points in the NBA playoffs this year, I’m backing the Clippers to continue their resilient play and force a Game 7.
Pick: Los Angeles Clippers +1