The Los Angeles Clippers never led, trailed by 16 in the second quarter and lost to the Phoenix Suns, 84-80, Saturday evening at Staples Center and trail the NBA’s Western Conference finals, three games to one.
The Clippers cut the deficit to one point four times in the fourth quarter, the last time with 13.2 seconds left when Paul George made two free throws, but were unable to tie the score. Chris Paul made five of six free throws in the final seven seconds to seal the victory.
Game 5 of the best-of-seven series will be played Monday in Phoenix. Teams with 3-1 leads in an NBA conference final have gone on to win the series 52 of 56 times.
There was only one basket made in the final three minutes, 42 seconds, a driving layup by Terance Mann with 58.5 seconds to play that pulled the Clippers within three, 79-76. The Clippers missed seven of their last eight shots in the final 4:22. Phoenix missed four of its last five shots in the final 4:32.
The Clippers made 27 of 83 shots, 32.5%, including five of 31 3-point shots, 16.1%, and 21 of 32 free throws, 65.6%. The Suns made 31 of 86 shots, 36%, including four of 20 3-point shots, 20%, and 18 of 21 free throws, 85.7%.
Phoenix’s 84 points were the least by a winning team in the 2021 playoffs.
The Suns scored 11 unanswered points to take a 14-2 lead 4:01 into the game and led 29-20 at the end of the first quarter. A 13-2 run gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 44-28, 3:17 before halftime.
The Clippers trailed 50-36 to start the third quarter. They scored seven consecutive points to cut the deficit to single digits for the first time in the second half, 59-53, with 5:25 left in the third quarter, and trailed 69-66 at the end of the quarter.
Guard Devin Booker led three Suns in double figures with 25 points, making eight of 22 shots and nine of 11 free throws. He missed all five of his 3-point shots. Center Deandre Ayton scored 19 points, pulled down a game-high 22 rebounds and had a game-best plus-eight plus-minus, meaning Phoenix outscored the Clippers by eight when he was on the court.
Paul added 18 points, making six of 22 shots and six of seven free throws, and had a game-high seven assists. He missed all three of his 3-point shots.
George led four Clippers in double figures with 23 points, making five of 20 shots and 12 of 18 free throws. He made one of nine 3-point shots. Reggie Jackson added 20, Ivica Zubac 13 and Mann 12.
Marcus Morris Sr. returned to the Clippers’ starting lineup after a one-game absence, but scored just four points and didn’t pull down a rebound in 22:11. His minus-10 plus-minus was the game’s worst.
Morris’ sore left knee prompted coach Tyronn Lue to take him out of the starting lineup Thursday, but the 6-foot-8-inch forward was able to play 23:47, with eight points and five rebounds in a 106-92 victory.
Clippers star forward Kawhi Leonard missed his sixth consecutive game because of a right knee sprain.
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