LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – Hosting their first-ever Western Conference Finals home playoff game, the Los Angeles Clippers found themselves in a similar position in Game 3 of this series. In a 0-2 hole as they were against the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz, the Clippers were staring at familiar territory.
Lose Game 3, and their wish for an NBA Finals appearance becomes a pipe dream. After losing a gut-wrenching Game 2 in Phoenix when a last-second dunk by Deandre Ayton occurred after an unfortunate series of events, the Clippers bounced back with a 106-92 victory Thursday night against the Suns.
While Staples Center has hosted its fair share of Finals matchups, this was a first for the Clippers. It turned out to be a success as the Clippers defended home court and avoided a 3-0 series hole. The Clippers victory snapped a nine-game postseason winning streak by the Suns.
Now with new life in the series, Los Angeles must continue with their trend that has caused a torturous postseason for Clipper fans.
After being down 0-2 in their first two previous playoff matchups against the Mavericks and Jazz, the Clippers continue to show the resiliency and grit to battle back from such deficits. Being the first team ever in postseason history to overcome multiple 0-2 series deficits, Los Angeles must create more history if they are to reach the NBA Finals.
Now three wins away from the franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals appearance, the team continues to rely on this resiliency and fight in order to preserve through this postseason.
Paul George, who missed a pair of critical free throws in the last seconds of Game 2, led the way as the superstar continues to step up huge in the absence of Kawhi Leonard. George ended his night with 27 points, adding 15 rebounds and 8 assists as the All-Star has now gone eight straight postseason games with at least 25 points.
George’s streak is the second such longest streak in postseason history for the franchise. For George, bouncing back and putting the tough loss behind them was key in coming out and securing a Game 3 victory.
“All my energy was directed towards a better game in game 3,” George said. “We can’t allow this team to play harder than us and I thought that was just the way we approached tonight.”
George went 6-7 from the free-throw line and ended the night shooting 9-26 from the field. Despite the poor shooting night overall, PG13 had several key buckets that helped swing the momentum in the Clippers’ favor. Right before the half, after a Suns basket, George took the inbounds pass and with less than 10 seconds on the clock streaked down the court and hammered down a two-handed jam right before the clock ran out.
The dunk cut the Phoenix lead down to two points heading into the half and electrified a once again sold-out crowd. As the third quarter came to an end, George once again took the inbounds pass and this time took two dribbles to half court before nailing a three-pointer as the clock expired. The shot gave the Clippers an 11-point lead heading into the final quarter and proved to be a backbreaker for the Suns.
“I felt great about the shot, I didn’t make many tonight but that was one that we needed and I thought it gave us great momentum,” George said.
For Los Angeles head coach Tyronn Lue, being in this situation yet again was something he was not quite fond of. But understanding that his team has been here before, the ability to make adjustments and trust his veteran players has been key in the team’s comebacks.
“Making adjustments, sometimes it’s tough,” Lue said. “Because adjustments mean some guys can’t play, some guys play more, and you have to be able to accept that.”
The biggest adjustment on defense was finding a way to stop prolific scorer Devin Booker, who played with a face mask after suffering a nose injury during the Suns Game 2 victory. With Patrick Beverly hounding him from the tip, Booker missed his first six shots to start the game and ended the night with 15 points.
Despite the return of Chris Paul to the Phoenix lineup, the veteran looked rusty after missing the first two games due to being in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol. While the Clippers defensively appear to have made the correct adjustments, Lue believes what can’t be measured is what separates his team from the rest.
“Our guys keep grinding, keep fighting,” Lue said. “We never give in.”
While the rotation has continuously changed for the team depending on the match-up problem that they are faced with, guards Reggie Jackson and Terrance Mann continue to play huge roles.
Jackson ended his night with yet another 20 plus point performance this postseason, scoring 23 points which included a handful of huge shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice. For Mann, the spark plug started in place of Marcus Morris Sr. and continued to provide his energy and relentless effort en route to a quiet 12-point night on an efficient 6-8 shooting from the field.
“We have great leaders’ man. The guys in the locker room are always positive, win or lose. Everybody is on the same page,” Mann said. ‘It’s a position we’ve been in before, two times, unfortunately, but yeah everybody just stayed locked in. All the vets just kept everybody on the same page, kept everybody positive. So it didn’t feel as bad as it was.”
With Game 4 of the series set to take place Saturday afternoon, the Clippers must continue what they have all postseason long and fight despite the odds being stacked against them. As Kawhi Leonard remains sidelined for the foreseeable future, the ability for George and company to step up and pile up victories remains a tall task.
For now, the team must take each game as they come, knowing very well that after Game 4 the series can be reset.
Featured Image Caption: June 24, 2021-Paul George (13) leads the Los Angeles Clippers to a 106-92 win against the Phoenix Suns in Game of the Western Conference finals. George scored 27 points and produced 15 rebounds in the Clippers’ victory. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline