The Los Angeles Clippers are back on track.
Following a surprising loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday, the Clippers defeated the Phoenix Suns 120-99 on Tuesday at Staples Center. Los Angeles is now 21-8 on the season after Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams led the way in the latest effort.
As for the fading Suns, they are 11-16 following a fourth consecutive loss.
Notable Player Stats
- LAC F Paul George: 24 points, three rebounds and three steals
- LAC F Kawhi Leonard: 20 points and six rebounds
- LAC G Lou Williams: 20 points and eight assists on 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range
- LAC F Montrezl Harrell: 15 points, five rebounds and three assists
- PHO F Kelly Oubre Jr.: 19 points, four rebounds, three steals and one block
- PHO C Deandre Ayton: 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists
Kawhi's Return Stabilizes Clippers on Both Ends
Leonard did not play in Saturday's loss to the Bulls, as the Clippers are managing his minutes as he bounces back from a knee injury. The Toronto Raptors used a similar plan last season, and it paid off with a championship as a fresher Leonard dominated the playoffs.
The Clippers looked like a championship team again with him back on the floor.
While Leonard put up solid numbers and helped the team take over in the third quarter, his presence opened up the floor for the rest of the team. George didn't face as many double-teams and battled Kelly Oubre Jr. with physical play and multiple head-turning dunks, Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell had cleaner looks at the rim, and Williams could serve as the spark plug of the second unit.
Williams caught fire in the fourth quarter and ensured there would be no comeback from the Suns after Los Angeles' dominant third quarter.
It wasn't just the offense, as Leonard's presence gives the Clippers a stifling defense featuring the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George as a four-time All-Defensive selection, Patrick Beverley as a hounding presence on the perimeter and Harrell as a rim protector.
Phoenix had no chance to counter the Clippers' offensive firepower with that group also locked in on the defensive side for the home team.
Deandre Ayton's Return Provides Silver Lining in Defeat
While the Suns are still in contention for the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, this season is more about building toward the future.
Deandre Ayton is a key cog in that future and appeared ready for an impressive season when he posted a double-double in the opener against the Sacramento Kings. However, he was suspended for 25 games after that for violating the league's anti-drug policy and has been unable to build on his rookie campaign when he averaged a double-double.
The No. 1 pick of the 2018 NBA draft returned to the court Tuesday and didn't waste much time shaking off any lingering rust.
Ayton mixed in elbow jumpers, got out in transition and attacked the basket from the blocks. Phoenix ran its offense through him for extended stretches in the third quarter, and he flashed his potential as a double-double machine that will anchor the Suns frontcourt for years.
It is not difficult to imagine Phoenix building a long-term winner with Ayton and Devin Booker—who missed Tuesday's loss—as the cornerstones for years to come. That the big man was still so effective despite missing significant time is nothing but a positive for Suns fans even during their team's lackluster start to the season.
The Clippers host the Houston Rockets on Thursday in a potential playoff preview, while the Suns are at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.