The Los Angeles Clippers trail the NBA’s Western Conference finals three games to one entering Game 5 Monday but coach Tyronn Lue said overcoming the deficit is “very doable.”
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re locked in and understand what we’re doing offensively,” Lue said after Saturday night’s 84-80 loss to the Phoenix Suns. “I think we’ve got to be more locked in offensively to beat this team.”
Teams with 3-1 leads in an NBA conference final have gone on to win the series 52 of 56 times.
The Clippers’ 80 points were the least by any team in the 2021 playoffs while Phoenix’s 84 points were the least by a winning team. The Clippers never led despite pulling to within one point four times in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight was a tough one,” said Clippers forward Paul George. “We had an opportunity to take the lead for a couple possessions. We just had a hard time putting the (ball) in the hole. That’s honestly the game.”
George made two free throws with 13.2 seconds left to cut the deficit to one for the final time, 79-78, but the Clippers were unable to tie the score. Chris Paul made five of six free throws in the final seven seconds to seal the victory.
The first time in the fourth quarter the Clippers pulled to within one was at 71-70 with 10 minutes, seven seconds to play. Neither team scored again until Suns center Deandre Ayton made a dunk with 6:23 left. The Clippers missed eight consecutive shots and Phoenix seven.
“We had some good looks,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said. “Shots just wouldn’t drop unfortunately.”
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. The Suns missed four of their 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%. Phoenix made 31 of 86 shots, 36%, including four of 20 3-point shots, 20%, and 18 of 21 free throws, 85.7%.
“I feel like the pressure over the course of the game, when you compete like that everybody’s tired, so it wasn’t a surprise to me to see that many shots missed,” said Suns coach Monty Williams, whose team will have an opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 Monday when the best-of-seven series returns to Phoenix.
Phoenix 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 the Suns their biggest lead, 44-28, 3:17 before halftime.
“They came out with a great physicality on the defensive end, switched a lot and took us out of our offensive flow and offensive rhythm,” Lue said.
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. 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, including one of nine 3-point shots, and 12 of 18 free throws. Jackson added 20, Ivica Zubac 13 and Mann 12 before a sellout crowd at Staples Center announced at 18,222.
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 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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