Suns vs. Clippers WCF Game 4: Back Phoenix to Grab Crucial Victory in Series

Raheem Palmer gives his detailed thoughts, plus his top pick, for Saturday's Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

Suns vs. Clippers Game 4 Odds

Suns Odds -1
Clippers Odds +1
Moneyline -120 / +100
Over/Under 218.6
Time 9 p.m. ET
Odds as of Friday night via BetMGM.

For the third consecutive playoff series, the Los Angeles Clippers found themselves facing an 0-2 deficit after dropping the first two games. And like clockwork, they came back home to win Thursday’s Game 3 showdown in a 106-92 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

At this point, you could jokingly make hypothetical arguments about whether the 0-2 Clippers could matchup with the 1996 Chicago Bulls and 2017 Golden State Warriors, given their performance with their backs against the wall.

Nevertheless, it was the perfect example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, as Suns lost their first game in nearly a month. They had won nine consecutive games after their Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in their first-round playoff series.

Chris Paul’s return from COVID-19 health and safety protocols didn’t go as planned. The veteran scored 15 points,  shooting just 5 of 19 from the field. Devin Booker wasn’t any better, finishing with lowest scoring game of the series with just 15 points on 5-of-21 shooting.

With both of the Suns stars struggling in Game 3, the Clippers took full advantage and sit a win from tying the series at 2-2 without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard.

Tying this series won’t be easy for the Clippers, as the Suns have just four back-to-back losses this season. One of them came in a back-to-back against the Denver Nuggets, when Booker was injured in the first game. The second was on a long East coast road trip, where they played the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets in a span of six days.

Their final stretch of back-to-back losses was in the playoffs, where they lost games 2 and 3 to the Los Angeles Lakers, as Paul struggled through a shoulder injury. Nonetheless, Los Angeles has its work cut out for it Oddsmakers have listed the Suns as 1-point road favorites, with a total of 219.

Can the Clippers win and overcome an 0-2 deficit for the third consecutive series or will the Suns take a commanding 3-1 lead with the chance to end the series at home and make it to their first NBA Finals since 1993?

Let’s take a look both sides and find out.

Banged-Up Booker Struggles in Game 3 Setback

Booker came into Game 3 with many fans and analysts comparing him to the late Kobe Bryant. The craftiness, the footwork, the midrange shooting and ability to score is very reminiscent of the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers legend.

Averaging 28.3 points per game in the playoffs, the All-Star guard is shooting 48% from the midrange  and had a 40-point triple double in Game 1 , adding 11 assists and 13 rebounds in the victory.

Yet, it’s been all downhill from there as head coach Ty Lue’s adjustment to have Patrick Beverley defend him has impacted his efficiency. And it certainly doesn’t help he broke his nose. Booker scored only 20 points (5 of 16 shooting) in Game 2, and while he did hit a go-ahead basket with 27 seconds left to put the Suns up 102-101, the lack of efficiency was a sign to come.

In Game 3, Booker had his lowest scoring game of the postseason with just 15 points on 5 of 21 shooting. Beverly has done a solid job playing physical and aggressive, bothering Booker with a pestering presence. It’s tough to hold a great scorer down, so we can expect better performances from him.

While many people expected the Suns to win Game 3 given Paul’s return, there was some rust for the future Hall of Fame point guard who last played in a June 13 close-out game against the Denver Nuggets. For athletes who are a creature of habit, there’s going to be an adjustment period after missing 10 days with no games or practice time.

It was no different for Paul who scored just 15 points on 5 of 19 shooting and drastically slowed the pace of the Suns’ offense. Lack of conditioning appeared to be a problem, as many of Paul’s shots landed short. He also struggled to blow by defenders in the second half and ran out of gas.

He did finish with 12 assists and three steals, so not all was lost, but with a day off to practice, rest and view film, I’m expecting a solid performance from Paul in this latest meeting.

While we should expect a better performance from Paul, the Suns are reeling  after losing back-up point guard Cameron Payne with a left ankle sprain. The Clippers struggled with Payne’s ability to penetrate and push the pace, so it’s something that certainly impacted the Phoenix’s chances of winning Game 3. Payne is probable, so you have to be encouraged for the Suns if he plays.

With or without Payne, you can expect Phoenix to rely more on Booker and Paul. It’s hard to imagine they’ll play as poorly as they did in Game 3. The Suns scored just eight midrange points Sunday, despite having two stars in Booker and Paul, who were in the 97th and 93rd percentile in midrange shooting accuracy during the regular season.

In addition, the Suns still have a huge advantage with Deandre Ayton inside, with the Clippers have no bigs truly capable of defending him. Ayton is averaging 20.7 points per game on 73.8% shooting, along with 10.7 rebounds. It will be interesting to see if Phoenix goes to him more throughout this series.

Clippers Deliver Monster Effort in Game 3 Triumph

When Los Angeles went down 0-2 to Phoenix after Ayton’s alley-oop winner, my first thought was maybe the Clippers have the Suns exactly where they want them.

The greatest 0-2 team of all time returned with a vengeance winning Game 3, as its defense on Booker completely shifted this series. In many ways, this is eerily similar to their series against the Utah Jazz when Donovan Mitchell averaged 41 points in games 1 and 2 before the Clippers found adjustments.

Beverley has been a pest defensively, holding Booker to just 10 for 37 from the field for just 35 points over the past two games, which is a massive swing for a Los Angeles team that gave up a 40-point triple-double to Booker in Game 1.

Mitchell was dealing with an ankle injury, which limited his mobility, and with the Clippers throwing traps and double teams at him, there were diminishing returns going forward. Booker might have a broken nose, but it’s tough to expect him to fade. And with the Suns having another capable ball handler in Paul, it’s tough to imagine them slowing down the duo.

Still, Los Angeles is one of the better offensive teams and the math problem they create for the Suns has been the biggest reason they’ve been in every single game. The Clippers were the top 3-point shooting team at 41.8% this season, which has certainly carried over to the postseason. They’re outscoring the Suns from behind the arc, 45-29, or by 48 points. This is the kind of math discrepancy that could allow the Clippers to steal the series.

Although the Clippers don’t really have the bigs to contain Ayton, Ivica Zubac has come up big in this series. Los Angeles is a plus-30 with him on the floor against Ayton. He finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in Game 3 and was a huge factor in contesting midrange jumpers from Paul.

Terance Mann also continues to be a spark plug, as his energy was a big part of the Clippers’ 21-3 run in the third quarter that gave them control of the game. With Marcus Morris banged up, Mann’s presence will be key down the stretch.

If there’s a cause for concern for Los Angeles it’s the minutes for George are adding up. The NBA did the Clippers no favors with the scheduling, as they’ve been playing every other day for quite some time. However, they can also blame themselves for playing with their food in an easier series against the Dallas Mavericks against whom they were prohibitive favorites.

George has put the team on his back in the absence of Leonard, who is out with an knee injury. He’s averaging 26.6 points per game, along with 5.5 assists and 9.1 rebounds, but since Leonard went out, he’s averaging 30.4 points, 10 rebounds and 6.2 assists. George is first in both playoffs minutes (653) and points (426), as he’s done everything he can leading this team. You have to wonder, though, at what point is the load too much to carry?

Out of the possible 768 minutes in the the postseason, George has played 652 of them. Out of the possible 576 minutes in the last 23 days, George has played 495 of them. George has played 40 minutes or more in six out of the last eight playoff games and looked noticeably gassed in Game 3. It’s not surprise that George had 6 turnovers in the final 14 minutes of the game.

Suns-Clippers Pick

The Clippers were my pick to win the Western Conference and NBA title. They had a combination of wings in Leonard, George, Morris, Mann and Nicolas tay could cause problems for teams at both ends of the floor.

They could also spread you out and shoot the three, as they were the best 3-point shooting team in the league. Los Angeles also had the defensive versatility to switch every screen and roll, plus lock down your best perimeter scorers. If you didn’t have a big who could make them pay, you were in trouble.

However, the Suns have everything. Perimeter scorers in Paul and Booker, who can create their own shots, three-and-D wings like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder and a big in Ayton, who can dominate in the paint.

They’ve feasted on injured teams during this postseason. Remember when the Lakers entered the playoffs when LeBron James was less than 100 percent and Anthony Davis was hurt? They disposed of them in five games. They made easy work of the NBA MVP Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets, who were playing a patchwork lineup at guard without Jamal Murray.

With Leonard missing in action, Morris banged up and George playing an absurd amount of minutes, I’m seeing a similar result even as Payne deals with a sprained ankle.

The Suns are currently the better team, and while the Clippers won Game 3 in a game in which Paul and Booked combined to shoot 10 of 40, that won’t happen again. Los Angeles is walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death — or rather the sun — and unfortunately, I see the team getting burnt.

Back Paul and the Suns to defeat the Clippers on the road, as they should put themselves within one game of the NBA Finals.

Pick: Phoenix -1 (-110)

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