On the brink, Clippers look to extend series

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – This entire postseason run by the Los Angeles Clippers can be summed up in one word: comebacks. To kick things off the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the Dallas Mavericks and the wizardry of Luka Doncic before taking him and the Mavs down in a Game 7 victory.

In the second round, Los Angeles managed to end a 51-year-old playoff curse and rattled off four straight victories against the Utah Jazz in route to reaching the team’s first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance. Now the team must pull off one of the most historic comebacks in NBA history if they plan to advance to the NBA Finals.

Trailing the Phoenix Suns 3-1 in the series following Saturday night’s 84-80 Game 4 defeat, the Clippers must put together one of the greatest three-game win streaks of the season in order to stay alive.

June 26, 2021-Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns drives past Terance Mann of the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. The Suns defeated the Clippers, 84-80. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline
June 26, 2021-Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns drives past Terance Mann of the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. The Suns defeated the Clippers, 84-80. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

Following a brutal shooting night in Game 4 that saw the team go an abysmal 5 of 31 from beyond the arc, the Clippers and head coach Tyronn Lue must continue to stay calm and collective as they have all postseason.

“Just got to take it one game at a time, just focus on Monday’s game, that’s it,” Lue said. “Not focus on winning three games. Got to take it one game at a time, and that’s got to be our mindset. We beat Utah and won four games in a row, so it’s very doable. We’ve just got to make sure we’re locked in and understand what we’re doing offensively. I think we’ve got to be more locked in offensively to beat this team.”

In the Game 4 loss which saw both teams score less than 85 points, the Clippers could not capitalize on their spectacular defensive effort due to their frigid shooting night. As their superstar forward Kawhi Leonard continues to be sidelined with a knee injury,

Paul George and company simply did not have enough in the tank offensively to overcome the Suns at any point in the Game 4 defeat. George who had set a franchise postseason record of scoring 25 or more points in eight score postseason games, failed to reach the mark in the defeat as he ended his night with 23 points.

While using the excuse of not having Leonard and his elite two-way talent on the court for the last six games is something George and his teammates could use, George isn’t going that route.

Reggie Jackson of the Clippers goes to the basket
June 26, 2021-Reggie Jackson of the Los Angeles Clippers goes to the rack in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns defeated the Clippers, 84-80. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“Yeah, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tough,” George said following the team’s Game 4 loss. “But it’s got to be one game at a time. It’s win-or-go-home, so Game 5 is a must-win. That’s just what it has to be, our mindset has to be whatever it takes and play as hard as we can. We’ve got to win Game 5.”

For the Clippers to overcome this deficit they must do the two things they did best all season long, hit their wide-open three-point attempts and knock down their free-throw attempts. During the regular season, the Clippers led the league in both these categories.

They set season historic records with their free-throw percentage and three-point percentage for a team, being the first franchise ever to combine over both 80 percent from the free-throw line and over 40 percent from three. These strengths that helped carry them throughout the regular season have consistently become weaknesses in the team’s game during this postseason run.

In the three losses during this series, the team has gone a combined 38 of 112 from beyond the arc. This dismal shooting from deep reared its ugly head in Game 4 as wide-open jumper after jumper was missed, all but hampering any hope at a victory. While the cold-shooting from deep has most certainly hamstrung the Clippers throughout the postseason, their lack of knocking down free throws has also done them in.

June 26, 2021-Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) goes up for a shot attempt against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline
June 26, 2021-Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) goes up for a shot attempt against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

In the three losses, the team has shot 53 of 73 from the charity stripe, way below the team’s season average. Possibly one of the biggest swings in the series has come due to a pair of missed throws in Game 2 by George. Who knows what this series would become if PG13 is able to knock down at least one of those free throws towards the end of regulation of Game 2?

Instead, the inability to take advantage of the free points has also reared its ugly head throughout the series. The amount of missed free throws has most certainly cost the team at least one victory, if not two already.

But for now, the team must do the one thing their head coach will continue to preach until game time, one game at a time. One win in Phoenix, which was so close in Game 2, must be captured in Game 5, or the fishing trips and vacations will start earlier than hoped.

“Just taking it one game at a time. You can’t focus on winning three, you have to focus on winning one,” Lue said during the head coach’s media availability session Sunday afternoon. “It starts quarter by quarter, especially playing on the road right now in Game 5.

“You have to take it quarter by quarter and try to win each quarter, that’s got to be your mindset,” Lue continued.  “You can’t think about three days, and four or five, six days from now. You have to think about tomorrow and just winning quarter by quarter. I think that’s the mindset that I’ve got to make sure our team has going into the game tomorrow.”

Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue and several of his players look on the Game 4 action of the Western Conference Finals. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline