The LA Clippers took advantage of the Phoenix Suns’ lack of chemistry and odd rotation choices, stealing Game 1 on Sunday. On Tuesday, Ty Lue and the Clippers will brace themselves for a more focused Suns group. Check out our preview below to see how the Clippers might keep it going:
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
When: 7:00 PM PT
How to Watch: TNT, Bally Sports, ClipperVision
How to Listen: AM 570 KLAC
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Russell Westbrook – Eric Gordon – Kawhi Leonard – Nicolas Batum – Ivica Zubac
Suns: Chris Paul – Devin Booker – Torrey Craig – Kevin Durant – Deandre Ayton
Clippers: OUT—Paul George (knee)
Suns: OUT—Cam Payne (back)
The Big Picture
The Clippers can play better than they did on Sunday: Nicolas Batum, Russell Westbrook, and Bones Hyland combined to shoot 5/28 from the field; Eric Gordon only scored five points in the second half; and they shot just 32.3% from three. Sure, one should not expect everyone on the team to shoot well every game, but the Clippers could plausibly get more from at least one of Hyland or Batum and rein in Westbrook’s shot selection.
Further, what we suspected would be the Clippers’ key advantage turned out to, in fact, be true: The Clippers’ bench minutes arguably won them the game. Specifically, the Clippers had 34 points off the bench to the Suns’ 10. In Game 2, the Clippers will need the bench to keep it going—and Ty Lue ought to continue to use the bench as a weapon. One such way would be to change up the bench rotation by inserting Marcus Morris, Sr. or Robert Covington in order to preemptively counter the adjustments of Monty Williams (this was discussed on the Game 1 Recap Podcast).
It is hard to believe that Suns’ coach Monty Williams will repeat some of the rotation mistakes he made in Game 1. For instance, we are likely to see fewer (if any) four-bench plus one-starter lineups; the Suns are simply too top heavy to not have two starters on the floor at all times. (Note: This is why Ty Lue should consider bringing a forward off the bench to strengthen the Clippers’ defense.)
The Suns’ stars will also be much brighter going forward. Durant, Booker, and Ayton were all efficient—but none of them were dominant. The odds that the Clippers will get another game in which the Suns do not have a dominant offensive performance are extremely low. In fact, given that the Clippers only won by five (really only three, given that the last basket was a giveaway), the Suns might have won if Chris Paul played a little better. On Monday, Monty Williams talked about finding ways to get Durant the ball more often at the end of games.
Playoff Kawhi Leonard: During Game 1, Kawhi passed Bob McAdoo for sole possession of fourth place on the Clippers’ all-time postseason points list (H/T Clippers PR). He currently has 739 points in 25 games, and he will likely pass Paul George (774 points in 32 games) this series. He is on pace to become the top playoff scorer in franchise history in 13 games, assuming he keeps up his 29.6 ppg average. The current leader is Chris Paul, who has 1,125 points over 53 games.
Defensive Chess Moves: Kawhi Leonard guarded Kevin Durant for 4:47 minutes on Sunday—the most of any Clipper. Surprisingly, Eric Gordon was second with 3:54 minutes, Westbrook clocked 3:19 minutes, and no one else was over about a minute. Durant went 4/5 while guarded by Kawhi, but that does not capture the work Kawhi did to deny Durant the ball or make him pass. Westbrook did the best, forcing a turnover, blocking a shot, and giving up zero field goals out of three attempts. As noted above, Durant will certainly have bigger games than he did on Sunday, so the Clippers should continue experimenting with new defenders and other trap schemes. Notably, the Clippers have not put a bigger player (like Batum, Morris, or Covington) on him yet.
That about does it for this preview of the Clippers-Suns Game 2. As always, check out The Lob The Jam The Podcast and Clips ‘N Dip for analysis throughout the week, and follow us on Twitter to watch the game with us!