The Clippers once again fought hard, but ran out of gas and out of firepower down the stretch against the Suns, losing Game 4 112-100 to fall to 3-1 in the series.
The game moved quickly to start, which might favor the Clippers’ bench, but not their slow starters. The Suns got a ton of offensive rebounds, so despite being cold just like the Clippers, they had an early 16-9 lead. Ty Lue stuck with his starting five, and the Clippers were able to tie the game over the next couple minutes before a Morris foul on KD. Terance Mann was the first sub, for Morris, and immediately the Clippers’ energy and defense picked up. This only continued as the subs trickled in, with Bones and Plumlee coming in for Norm and Zu and the Suns going with Shamet (awful), Okogie, and Biyombo. The Clippers kept pushing and they were able to get a 30-23 lead after one.
Nic Batum started the second quarter, and Norm Powell checked in as well. The Clippers’ defense remained sharp while the Suns continued to look lethargic, and the Clippers seized a 34-23 edge. Monty Williams took out Booker, with KD still on the bench, and the Suns actually made a bit of a run. Morris checked back in for Bones, who took some questionable shots, and the Suns started attacking him. Soon, the Clippers’ lead was gone, brought on by a slew of live-ball turnovers. Morris hit a turnaround midrange over Paul, and then drew KD’s 3rd foul while putting the Clippers back up four. KD stayed in the game, and went on a mini 4-0 run of his own to tie it up. While the Clippers’ defense remained fairly solid, the turnovers and missed open shots from Powell and Morris allowed the Suns to open up a six-point lead. Terance returned to close the half, and the Clippers were able to get the Suns’ lead down to one entering halftime.
The Clippers started with a roar, forcing two Suns turnovers and scoring seven unanswered points in 64 seconds to force a Suns timeout. They then forced another turnover and got another bucket, going up eight before Paul finally hit a midranger. The Suns began to push once more, mostly behind Durant and Booker, with two and-ones by Booker helping keep the Suns in it. Russ had a monster dunk, but Paul nailed a three. Every time the Clips hit, the Suns hit back. Finally, after a KD three, the Suns led by 2 at the 5:17 mark, and Robert Covington checked in for Marcus Morris, while Mann came in for Gordon. Plumlee came in shortly later. The bench unit’s defensive energy was better, but some unfortunate foul calls and exceptional shot making by Durant kept the Suns ahead, holding an 83-78 lead entering the final frame.
Norm once again came back in to anchor the second unit. Plumlee got an incredible block on Paul, and Norm got to the line – but missed both free throws, then picked up his fifth foul. Russ checked back in for Norm at around the 10 minute mark with the Clippers down four, and immediately hit a high-arcing midranger. Unfortunately, a KD and-one followed by a Booker three got the Suns up 91-83 at the 8:45 mark. Ty Lue started shifting smaller, with Gordon returning for Covington. Bones hit a three, the Suns had back to back turnovers, and Russ hit a three as well to cut the lead to two. There then began a several-minute long stretch where Russ scored nearly every time down, but the Suns countered every time as well. With around five minutes to go, and the Suns up 6, Zu and Norm came back for Bones and Plumlee, followed by Morris, but a brilliant Chris Paul stretch gave the Suns seven unanswered points and a 109-96 lead with 2:57 to go. The Clippers kept fighting, but two airballed threes by Russ (gassed) and Morris (bad) did not help, and the Suns scored just enough to take the 112-100 victory.
Russ Brilliant: Russell Westbrook was the only person keeping the Clippers in this game. He scored 37 points on 17-29 shooting, and hit buckets every time the Clippers needed them. His defense, too, remained good, and he did his best to still find other guys when open. Russ scored from all over, hitting three of his six threes, bullying Suns in the post, rushing to the rim in transition, and rising for his traditional mid-range jumper in the pick and roll. It was more or less a vintage performance, and was fun to watch. I don’t think it changed my mind about bringing Russ back, but his energy and heart have been fantastic. You never doubt his will to win, and that is something that really does have value.
PF Roulette: Marcus Morris, hilariously, got the starting nod in this one. While he did make a midranger and drew that foul on KD, he finished 3-13 from the field, with one of those being a concession layup in the final minutes. He was 1-8 from three, and offered nothing on the glass or as a playmaker. He was a team-worst -19 in his 25 minutes. Nic Batum played only five minutes, all in the first half, and recorded no stats outside of a missed three and two fouls. Robert Covington took Batum’s spot in the second half, and was probably the best of the three due to his energy and activity, as well as two very nice assists, but also went scoreless on 0-2 shooting. It was a bad night and has been a bad series for the Clippers’ veteran power forwards. I would probably only use Covington going forward at this point if Ty is committed to playing both big men.
Mann Underplayed: Terance Mann was far and away the Clippers’ second best player in this one, yet played just 29 minutes (four more than Morris, fewer than Gordon or Powell, both blah in this one). He scored 13 points on 5-9 shooting, had four assists, and was awesome defensively. He simply needs to play more, whether it means starting over Gordon or starting over Batum or Morris. Mann has not played enough all season, and it’s been even more glaring in the playoffs.
Suns Shotmaking: I don’t want to talk too much about the Suns here, and I don’t think they’ve looked good, but credit where it’s due – Durant, Booker, and Paul have made huge shots all series, and did so again in this one. For as bad as their depth is, for as old as Paul sometimes looks, and for as unimpactful as Ayton frequently appears, Durant and Booker are just going to score a lot on good efficiency, and that’s enough to be scary.
Can’t Fault the Effort: The Clippers had 13 turnovers, and gave up 14 offensive rebounds (half in literally the first five minutes), but every guy who played, played hard. The effort, will, and heart can’t be denied, and that does say something about this team and group of guys, as miserable to watch as they have been all year.