The Los Angeles Clippers will try to force a decisive seventh game when the NBA’s Western Conference finals return to Staples Center Wednesday.
The Clippers staved off elimination Monday night with a 116-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns, with Paul George scoring 30 of his playoff career-high 41 points in the second half.
George made 15 of 20 shots, including three of six 3-point shots, all eight free throws and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds as the Clippers cut Phoenix’s lead in the best-of-seven series to three games to two.
“I just thought tonight my legs were under me,” George said Monday night. “That was just really the key. I felt strong physically.”
After never leading in Saturday’s 84-80 loss in Game 4, the Clippers led for all but 46 seconds in Game 5 — the opening 26 seconds before they scored the game’s first seven points and the 20 seconds between Chris Paul making a 16-foot pullup shot that completed a 10-2 run to start the third quarter and George’s 3-point play beginning a 10-0 run when he scored seven points.
The Clippers made six of their first seven shots to take a 14-3 lead three minutes, eight seconds into the game. Marcus Morris Sr. scored six unanswered points to increase the lead to 20-5 5:01 into the game before a sellout crowd of 16,664 at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Morris scored 13 of his series-high 22 points in the first quarter and Reggie Jackson 12 of his 23 as the Clippers outscored the Suns 36-26.
“We showed up in the first quarter and they played with desperation, simple and plain,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “It’s pretty obvious that we can’t play with a show-up mentality. ”
The Suns scored 12 consecutive points to pull within two, 44-42, 7:18 before halftime. Morris made a 3-point basket and two free throws to conclude a 7-0 run that gave the Clippers a 59-49 lead with 41.8 seconds left in the first half. They led 59-52 at halftime.
The Clippers scored the final seven points of the third quarter to take a 91-78 lead.
Phoenix cut the deficit 98-94 with 6:58 to play, but were unable to get any closer, trailing by at least 10 for the final 5:11.
Devin Booker led four Suns in double figures with 31 points. Paul added 22, Cameron Johnson 14 and Deandre Ayton 10.
Clippers’ 7-foot center Ivica Zubac was sidelined by a sprained right MCL after starting the previous three games. The 6-foot-8-inch Morris, usually a forward, replaced Zubac as the starting center.
“T-Lue came to me and said, `We’re going to start you at center and we need you to keep Ayton off the glass and just battle him however I can,” Morris said, referring to Clippers coach Tyronn Lue.
The 6-foot-11-inch Ayton had 11 rebounds, a team-high, but 11 less than in Game 4.
With Zubac unable to play, DeMarcus Cousins played 11:19, scoring 15 points, the most in his 14 career playoff games. Cousins played four seconds in Game 4 and did not play in Game 3.
“Him having 15 points off the bench was a huge spark for us to allow PG and Reggie to get some rest and Marcus to get some rest,” said Lue, whose team played without star forward Kawhi Leonard for the seventh consecutive game because of a right knee sprain. The Clippers are 4-3 during his absence.
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