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The Clippers Held Serve With A Comfortable Game 3 Home Win Over The Suns

The Phoenix Suns held serve at home to begin the 2021 Western Conference Finals, punctuated by a walk-off win in Game 2 over the Los Angeles Clippers. On Thursday evening, the Clippers attempted to avoid a disastrous 3-0 deficit in the series, taking on a Suns team that was set to benefit from the return of Chris Paul from a two-game absence in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Los Angeles trailed at the halftime break, but they put the pedal down in the third quarter, riding the wave to a 106-92 victory.

In a carryover from Game 2, the opening period was close-fought, with offense driving things at the outset and defense taking its turn late in the period. Los Angeles scored the final six points of the period to take a 29-21 lead, becoming the first team to take any modicum of control on the scoreboard.

Paul and Devin Booker combined to miss all nine of their field goal attempts in the first quarter, partially explaining Phoenix’s offensive shortcomings. Los Angeles was just 3-of-13 from long distance in their own right, but they generated stops and received welcomed contributions from Ivica Zubac with seven points and seven rebounds in his first ten minutes of action.

Though Paul and Booker continued to scuffle from a shooting standpoint, the Suns made their first run of the game early in the second quarter. Phoenix zoomed to a 14-4 spurt to claim the lead, and they benefitted considerably from four turnovers from the Clippers, including three in a disastrous stint from Rajon Rondo.

The Suns maintained a small lead for the majority of the second quarter and carried it into halftime. Part of that could be attributed to the Clippers missing 12 consecutive three-point attempts, but Phoenix’s defense was strong in holding Los Angeles to 36.6 percent shooting overall. From there, the Clippers failed to take advantage of an off-brand shooting performance from both Paul and Booker, and Paul George’s late dunk only managed to cut the deficit to two for Los Angeles.

During halftime, the Suns announced that early-series hero Cameron Payne would miss the second half with an ankle issue, putting the Suns behind the eight-ball in terms of their rotation. Though it didn’t happen immediately, the Clippers threw the first haymaker of the second half, scoring ten consecutive points to take a 60-53 advantage. Six of those points came in succession from Terance Mann, who continues to enjoy an impressive playoff run.

Shortly after, Booker picked up his fourth foul, capping an unfortunate run of three personal fouls in fewer than two minutes. As Booker headed to the bench, he picked up a double technical foul with Patrick Beverley.

With Booker sidelined, the Clippers continued to build their lead. Los Angeles put together a 21-3 onslaught, turning a narrow deficit into a 71-56 advantage.

Phoenix did respond, climbing back within a seven-point margin in the final minute of the third. The Clippers ended with a flourish, though, with Luke Kennard burying a three-pointer and George knocking down a halfcourt heave to put Los Angeles up by 11 with 12 minutes left.

The home team kept it rolling to start the fourth, eventually building an 18-point lead. At that point, it seemed as if the Clippers may run away and hide, but the Suns promptly scored 12 straight points, trimming the margin to 89-83 and injecting uncertainty into the proceedings with seven minutes remaining. Los Angeles had another counter, though, and they were able to extend the advantage back to 11 points in short order.

The Suns were unable to mount a serious challenge from that point forward, with the Clippers cruising to the finish to secure their first win of the series. George struggled from the floor, shooting 9-of-26, but he was exquisite in terms of floor game, putting up 27 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Reggie Jackson continued his red-hot play with 23 points, with Mann (12 points, five rebounds) bringing energy and Zubac adding a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds.

For the Suns, this is the team’s first loss since May 27, a staggering run of success. Phoenix still takes on favorite status in the series, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding Kawhi Leonard, but this game does provide optimism for the Clippers. Still, the Suns can take solace in a relatively competitive game on a night when neither Booker nor Paul had their fastball offensively, combining for a 10-of-40 shooting night that tells much of the story from Thursday.

The series will continue with Game 4 on Saturday evening at Staples Center. Los Angeles will again be in a pressure-packed scenario, but they seemingly found life on Thursday, adding even more intrigue to what should be a pivotal contest over the weekend.

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