2021 Playoffs: West Final | Suns vs. Clippers
Clippers not short on confidence despite 3-1 series hole
LA and coach Tyronn Lue can pinpoint the issues that have led it to their current state. But, is it too late to fix things?
The LA Clippers earned an entry in NBA history by becoming the only team to bounce back from 2-0 deficits in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
So, it made sense to hear coach Tyronn Lue describing his team’s prospects for wiggling out of the current 3-1 hole as “very doable” after Saturday’s Game 4 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals.
Lue led one of the 13 teams (the 2015-16 Cavaliers) in league history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series. To start off the process of repeating it when this Western Conference finals series resumes with Game 5 on Monday at Phoenix Suns Arena (9 ET, ESPN), Lue said his team can’t look beyond what’s right in front of it as it looks to stave off elimination.
“You can’t focus on winning three,” Lue said on Sunday. “You have to focus on winning one. It starts quarter by quarter, especially playing on the road right now in Game 5. You can’t think about three games and four, five, six days from now. You have to think about tomorrow and just winning quarter by quarter. I think that’s the mindset I’ve got to make sure our team has going into the game tomorrow.”
Game 5 marks LA’s 14th game since June 2, and the Clippers’ three losses in this series have come by a combined margin of 11 points. So, despite Phoenix’s 3-1 edge in this series, the Clippers know they’ve blown at least two winnable games through mental errors and uncharacteristic misses in crucial moments.
The Clippers shot a league-best 41.1% from 3-point range in the regular season, only to misfire on 26 of their 31 attempts from deep in Game 4. Paul George shot 86.8% from the free-throw line during the regular season, only to hoist key misses from the charity stripe in Games 2 and 4 that played major roles in LA losses.
“Basically, we had a chance to win two of those close games,” Lue said. “So, it’s not like we’ve gotten blown out in the games we lost. We played well enough to win those games and [if] just a couple bounces go our way, we could be up in the series. So, don’t think we’ve been getting blown out and we don’t have an answer for them, because we do.”
For Lue, the appropriate response from the Clippers in Game 5 is to play with more pace and a more aggressive mentality when it comes to driving to the rack. Lue believes those two details could make way for better shots for a Clippers team that trailed by 14 at intermission in Game 4, after connecting on just 29.5% overall and 4 of 22 from deep in the first half.
LA’s 18 missed 3-pointers over the first two quarters of Game 4 tied for the most misses from deep in any half of a playoff game in franchise history.
On the bright side, George has scored 20 points or more in 17 consecutive games, which registers as the longest streak in franchise history and the longest active streak in the league.
“This series could be very different with a handful of plays that we could take back,” George said. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s got to be one game at a time. We’ve got to win Game 5.”
So, Lue continues to pound home the message to his team that it isn’t playing out of its league, despite the 3-1 series tally. The defeat to Phoenix on Saturday marked LA’s first Game 4 loss of the postseason and snapped a five-game home winning streak.
“The games we lost have been close every single game, so we know we can play with this team,” Lue said.
Now, LA needs to prove it without the help of leading scorer Kawhi Leonard (knee), who is listed as out on the team’s official injury report, and perhaps without center Ivica Zubac (knee), who is listed as questionable.
The Suns, meanwhile, reconvened for a light workout on Sunday, where they shared feedback on the series and walked through specific situations that they might encounter in Game 5.
Only one win away from their first Finals appearance since 1993, the Suns are 6-2 all time when leading a playoff series 3-1.
Still, Phoenix point guard Chris Paul refuses to look too far ahead, saying, “not until the job is done,” given his unlucky past.
As a member of the Houston Rockets in 2018, Paul helped his squad to a 3-2 lead over Golden State in the Western Conference finals before the Warriors roared back to win the last two games. Paul suffered a hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5 in that series and sat out of the last two games.
So, like the Clippers, the Suns head into this potential close-out game confident, yet also singularly focused.
“Every game and series to me is different. They all have lives of their own,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “I think there’s more familiarity with the situation than we had before the playoffs started, for sure, just because we have so many guys that haven’t been in this situation. I think our guys understand how important every possession is, every film session, all that stuff that allows you to have success in the game. So maybe from that standpoint, having been through it with a group of guys who are going through this for the first time, maybe that breeds confidence.”
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