2021 Playoffs: West Final | Suns vs. Clippers
Phoenix Suns seek urgency to finish off LA Clippers in Game 6
Before it can make its first Finals in 28 years, Phoenix must find a way to finish off the resilient Clippers.
Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson pointed to “an element of relentless that we talk about all the time” that was missing in the team’s Game 5 loss to the LA Clippers in the Western Conference finals.
Coach Monty Williams spoke similarly when discussing the switch Phoenix needs to hit to take up its performance a notch to close out the resilient Clippers in Wednesday’s Game 6 at Staples Center (9 ET, ESPN).
“Getting your butt kicked like that should turn it on,” Williams said Tuesday after his team’s 116-102 loss. “I think our guys are feeling it right now. We have already talked about it. We’ll talk about it again tomorrow. But from a competitive standpoint, they got us and that should turn your switch on. We should play Suns basketball with that edge and relentlessness every time we step on the floor. We didn’t do it consistently, and tonight is a reminder you have to play 48 minutes in that mode, especially in the playoffs.”
Consider Game 5 just another lesson learned by this young Suns team, which is finally back in the postseason after a 10-year hiatus, facing a Clippers squad that is now 3-0 in these playoffs when facing elimination.
See, LA knows the desperation game. The Clippers staved off elimination twice in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks and again in Monday’s win over the Suns. Interestingly, LA owns a record of 0-6 in Games 1 and 2 this postseason, and a mark of 10-2 in all the other contests.
So, while playing with a series lead might appear to be easier, the Suns are quickly realizing it’s not.
“The desperation has to be there,” Williams said. “That’s the deal. Just because you have a lead in the series doesn’t mean you can show up and they’re going to give it to you. We have to understand that, and I think we do now. We will be better when we show up next time we play. But their desperation, their competitive edge tonight was consistent for 48 minutes.”
Phoenix started off Game 5 working to climb out of a 20-5 first-quarter hole, after Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson combined in the opening frame for 25 points — one shy of the scoring output of the entire Suns roster — before superstar wing Paul George had even broken a legit sweat.
Jackson, Morris and DeMarcus Cousins (15 points) would finish the night with a combined 60 points with George bringing in an additional 41 to come only one point shy of Phoenix’s entire scoring output between them.
The Clippers mashed the Suns in the paint, too, outscoring them 58-32 without center Ivica Zubac (knee) in the lineup. In the three games Phoenix won in this series, it outscored LA 156-100 in the paint. In the Suns’ two losses, the Clippers outscored them 98-74. It’s an area Phoenix dominated to start off the series, but the Clippers seem to have found a way to close the gap there while minimizing the impact of Suns big man Deandre Ayton, who has notched 10 double-doubles in the playoffs.
“Ayton is a great young talent that’s coming up,” Morris said. “Obviously, I had to give it everything I’ve got. But the last two series kind of prepared me for him, guarding [Utah’s Rudy] Gobert and I had [Dallas’] Boban [Marjanovic], [Kristaps] Porzingis. He’s a relentless rebounder. So just selling out on the glass and in the post, contesting shots, take away what he likes to do, watching a ton of film. Being a tough guy like I am, putting my body on the line. I’ve been doing it for numerous years in this league.”
Morris needs to sustain such an effort to help LA even up the series at 3-3. But he’ll have plenty of help, as the Clippers likely discovered another solid weapon moving forward in Cousins, who filled in for an injured Zubac and wreaked havoc on Phoenix. Cousins scored his 15 points over 11 minutes in Game 5, and Clippers coach Tyronn Lue now realizes his team can play through the big man when it needs to rest scorers such as George, Jackson, and Morris.
“Fifteen points off the bench. When you have to double guys like that, it forces you into rotations,” Williams said. “We didn’t meet them early, we let him get right to the block. He got whatever he wanted for the time he was in the game and he was a presence. They played with determination. We have to realize we’re trying to close out a series against a team that’s been there before, and they’re going to claw and scratch and do whatever it takes. We have to have that mentality.”
LA is also starting to feast off Phoenix turnovers, too. The Suns committed a total of 16 turnovers in Games 1 and 2 for a total of 17 Clippers points. Phoenix lost two of the last three contests giving up an average of 17.7 points to LA off an average of 13 turnovers. Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Ayton combined for half (seven) of the Suns’ turnovers in Game 5.
Paul hasn’t made any of his nine 3-point attempts over the last two games, while Jae Crowder has scored in single digits over his last four outings.
“Yeah, that was uncharacteristic of us, especially me,” said Paul of his Game 5 turnovers. “I had a couple turnovers early in the game, and they converted on all of them. We’ve got to be better Game 6.”
Certainly, the Clippers feel that way, too, given that elimination remains at stake.
“It’s one game for us, and it’s one game for them,” George said. “One game they beat us, we’re out, [and] one game [to] continue our season.”
The Suns now understand they need to employ a similar mentality in Game 6.
“They came out and they were the aggressors [in Game 5],” Paul said. “They sort of looked like us in Game 4 and hit us. They were too comfortable. We’ve got to be better.”
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