After dropping the first two games on the road, the Los Angeles Clippers looked right at home at the Staples Center with a 106-92 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals on Thursday.
The Clippers have had mixed results in their previous four games without Kawhi Leonard. They got two incredibly impressive and emotional wins over the Utah Jazz to close out that series, but head coach Tyronn Lue struggled to find answers against the Suns until Game 3.
With Chris Paul playing for the first time this series, the Suns were unable to continue their incredibly high level of play this postseason. They had won nine straight playoff games overall dating back to Game 4 of the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even though it seemed like the Suns were in control of the series after winning the first two games, history has shown the Clippers had them right where they wanted them. Lue's squad has won all three Game 3s it has played this postseason after falling behind 0-2.
Ivica Zubac had a major impact on both ends of the court in this game. He finished with a double-double of 15 points and 16 rebounds in 33 minutes. Paul George didn't have an efficient scoring game with 27 points on 26 shots, but he was fantastic on the defensive glass with 15 rebounds.
Phoenix's offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm in the loss. It shot just 38.9 percent from the field after connecting on at least 50 percent of its attempts in the first two games.
Notable Player Stats
- Paul George (LAC): 27 points (9-of-26 FG), 15 rebounds, 8 assists
- Ivica Zubac (LAC): 15 points (9-of-10 FT), 16 rebounds, 2 blocks
- Reggie Jackson (LAC): 23 points (9-of-17 FG), 3 assists
- Devin Booker (PHX): 15 points (5-of-21 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists
- Chris Paul (PHX): 15 points (5-of-19 FG), 12 assists, 3 steals
- Deandre Ayton (PHX): 18 points (9-of-13 FG), 9 rebounds
Clutch Performances from Zubac, Jackson Highlight Clippers' Win
Lue appeared to find something that was working when he played Zubac 34 minutes in Game 2. It was the most he had played in a single game since a May 13 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
One reason for Zubac's limited playing time recently has been because the Clippers have needed to play small. He's been incredibly valuable as a rebounder in the postseason, even in those games when his minutes were limited.
After Deandre Ayton's success against the Clippers in the first two games, Zubac stepped up big primarily matched up against the Suns center in Game 3.
In addition to Zubac's success, the Clippers were able to win thanks to the performance from some of their other role players. Reggie Jackson went 9-of-17 from the field with 23 points. He's scored at least 20 points in four of the last five games.
This has been a hallmark of the Clippers in the playoffs, with or without Leonard available. Lue is notorious for tinkering with lineups and matchups early in a series before finding something that he thinks works.
Whether or not he knew Zubac and Jackson were going to have breakout games, Lue continues to push all the right buttons when his team has their backs against the wall. They are still in a hole and have to dig out of it, but they are in a much better spot now than they were after the heartbreaking end to Game 2.
Suns' Stars Go Cold in LA
Paul's first appearance in the Western Conference Finals seemed like it was going to ignite the Suns coming off two emotional, hard-fought wins in the first two games.
Instead, the Suns looked fallible for the first time since they fell behind 2-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. The 92 points were their fewest in a game since a 99-86 loss to the Boston Celtics on April 22.
Paul looked rusty in his first appearance since June 13. The 36-year-old shot just 26.3 percent from the field, his lowest percentage of the playoffs.
Another problem for the Suns was Devin Booker losing his shooting touch after starting the series red hot in Game 1. The two-time All-Star was held to 15 points and had nearly as many field goals (five) as turnovers (four).
Since recording a triple-double with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in Game 1, Booker has been held to 35 points (10-of-37 field goals), 10 assists and nine rebounds with 11 turnovers combined in the past two games.
As bad as things went for Paul and Booker, the worst Suns player by plus-minus in Game 3 was Ayton. His minus-25 was the worst in the game from either team.
Phoenix's entire starting five was minus-86 combined. Three of Los Angeles' five starters were plus-23 or better.
Even though the Suns lead the series, there's a strong argument to be made that the Clippers have been the better team in the past two games. The Valley Oop from Jae Crowder to Ayton at the end of Game 2 looks much bigger after this result.
The last time the Suns faced significant adversity in these playoffs, they beat the Los Angeles Lakers in three straight games to advance. They've built up too much good will at this point to doubt their ability to bounce back, but Williams has some adjustments to make against the Clippers defense before Game 4.
The Suns and Clippers will play Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals at the Staples Center on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.