The Phoenix Suns now know they can beat the Los Angeles Clippers if they play in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Suns clinched a playoff spot and avoided a season sweep at the hands of L.A. with a 109-101 win on Wednesday at Phoenix Suns Arena. Chris Paul and Devin Booker led the way for the victors, who improved to 44-18 with their second straight win.
A solid showing from Paul George was not enough for the Clippers, who are still an impressive 43-21 even though they've lost two in a row.
Notable Player Stats
- Chris Paul, G, PHO: 28 PTS, 10 AST, 3 REB, 3 STL
- Devin Booker, G, PHO: 21 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST
- Paul George, G, LAC: 25 PTS, 10 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL
Chris Paul Clinches Playoffs for Suns
Wednesday marked an opportunity for the Suns.
The franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season entered the day a win away from clinching a spot in the postseason. It also had the chance to move two games ahead of the Clippers in the race for the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage in a potential second-round matchup.
The offense wasted little time seizing that opportunity with Paul dishing out assists, Booker attacking the lane, Mikal Bridges doing a little bit of everything and the combination of Frank Kaminsky and Cameron Payne providing a spark off the bench.
Los Angeles had no answer for Kaminsky around the rim in the early going, while Payne caught fire from deep in the first half as Phoenix established initial control.
Paul found his stroke from deep in the second half, but the Suns scored a combined 47 points in the second and third quarters after they torched the Clippers for 39 points in the first. That allowed the visitors to remain within striking distance.
Although L.A. climbed to within one with less than six minutes remaining, all that did was set the stage for Paul to take over.
The point guard scored six straight points in just over a minute to push the lead back to seven, drained a jumper from the free-throw line and then set up Booker for a runner when the Clippers doubled him.
It was a brilliant display from the future Hall of Famer and a reminder of the type of veteran leadership the Suns have been missing during their playoff drought.
Clippers' Comeback Efforts Come Up Short
It is a credit to the Clippers' overall depth that they entered Wednesday's contest 7-2 in the last nine games even though Kawhi Leonard played in just one of them.
George has led the way with seven games of more than 30 points in April, but he took a step back during Monday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans with just nine points. A similar performance would put plenty of pressure on the supporting cast against a fellow championship contender in Phoenix.
It didn't take George long to bounce back, as he poured in 15 points in the first quarter while aggressively seeking out his shot.
However, the Clippers still found themselves behind by double digits at halftime after he managed just a single point in the second quarter. He also had little help from the supporting cast with only Marcus Morris Sr. in double figures at intermission thanks in large part to his outside shooting.
To L.A.'s credit, it closed the gap with Ivica Zubac scoring inside, Reggie Jackson hitting from the outside, Rajon Rondo facilitating and George continuing to score while battling for rebounds.
The effort was enough to put the Clippers in position to win in the fourth quarter, but they didn't have an answer for Paul in crunch time. In fact, they lost the last six minutes 16-9 and could have used Leonard to match his All-Star counterpart with the game on the line.
Both teams are home for their next game when the Suns host the Utah Jazz on Friday and the Clippers face the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.