The Clippers will try to even the NBA’s Western Conference finals at two games a piece when the series resumes Saturday evening at Staples Center.
Paul George scored a game-high 27 points and Reggie Jackson added 23, including 10 in the fourth quarter, in a 106-92 Game 3 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd of 17,222 at Staples Center.
“We didn’t do too much different from the first two games,” Clippers forward Terance Mann said. “We were just more aggressive defensively.”
To Suns coach Monty Williams, the Clippers played with “typical playoff desperation” as they began their attempt to be the first NBA team to win three consecutive series after trailing two games to none in the same playoff year.
“We didn’t play with the desperation necessary to win a game like that consistently,” Williams said. “Offensively tonight, we weren’t sound at all. You look at the point totals in the first, third and fourth, they played good defense tonight, but we didn’t run our offense the way that we have been running it for most of these playoffs.
“They played with a great deal of desperation — 50-50 balls, attacking the offensive glass, attacking the rim — they played hard in every segment of the game. We didn’t play as hard consistently, and so you have to tip your hat to them. They brought it tonight for more of the 48 minutes than we did.”
Phoenix scored 21 points in the first quarter, 27 in the second, 21 in the third and 23 in the fourth.
The Clippers took the lead for good with a 21-3 third-quarter run, with Mann scoring the first four points and the last two for a 71-56 lead with three minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
George ended the quarter with a 46-foot 3-point basket to put the Clippers ahead 80-69, one of his three 3-point baskets on 11 attempts. He made nine of 26 shots and six of seven free throws.
The Clippers held their biggest lead, 89-71, with 10:16 remaining. The Suns responded by scoring 12 straight points, cutting the deficit to 89-83 with 7:13 left.
The Clippers scored the next seven points on a layup and 3-point basket by Jackson and two free throws by George and led by at least 10 for the rest of the game.
“They just outplayed us tonight,” Suns guard Chris Paul said after Phoenix’s team-record nine-game playoff winning streak ended. “We didn’t make shots. You could tell they had a lot more energy.”
The Suns made 35 of 90 shots, 38.9%, including 10 of 32 3-point shots, 31.2%. The Clippers made 37 of 82 shots, 45.1%, including 12 of 34 3-point shots, 35.3%. Phoenix made 12 of 13 free throws, 92.3%, the Clippers 20 of 24, 83.3%.
Paul made five of 19 shots, including two of seven 3-point shots, in his first appearance of the series. He missed the first two games because of what the team described as health and safety protocols.
“I got to be better,” said Paul, who scored 15 points and had a game-high 12 assists in 38:48. “I shot terrible. I’ve got to pick up the pace.”
Williams said he thought “I played him too much.”
“He probably got tired,” Williams said. “But it hurt us when (Cameron) Payne couldn’t come back, so I left Chris out for a longer stretch. That’s on me. But I think if he practices more and plays more — he hasn’t done much in 10 days — I think he’ll be much better in the next game from a conditioning standpoint.”
Payne, who started the first two games of the series in place of Paul and scored a game-high 29 points in the Suns’ 104-103 victory in Game 2 Tuesday, suffered a left ankle injury and did not play during the final three quarters.
Williams said he did not have information about Payne’s availability for Game 4 of the best-of-seven series.
“We missed Cam Payne,” Paul said. “I’ve been at home watching these last two games, and I saw the pace that he was playing with.”
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