The Clippers fell to the Phoenix Suns in Game 4, 84-80, and to their first 3-1 series deficit of this postseason. Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between the Clippers and Suns was a pebble fight; Deandre Ayton lives up to the billing; Booker ditches the mask; Chris Paul closes it out; and more, coming up in this recap:

Summary

Saturday night is fight night, and the Clippers and Suns brought plenty of it, quarreling for 48 minutes of knock-down, drag-out action. It’s just that neither side really managed the knockout.

After the Clippers mounted yet another third-quarter comeback, the Phoenix Suns won a 15-14 final frame — yes, that was the actual score — in a game they led from tape to tape, albeit just barely.

Only three players scored at least 20 points, but four pulled down at least 13 rebounds in a Game 4 brickfest.

Check out some of these numbers: The Suns shot just 20% on three-pointers and 36% overall. The Clippers would have dealt with the devil for those rates — they converted a meager 5 of 31 three-pointers (16%) and just 32.5% from the floor. Phoenix, at least, made their free throws (85.7%). The Clippers, metronomic from the line all year, missed more than a third of their 32 attempts.

With such wayward shooting, it was the big men who left the biggest imprint on the game.

Deandre Ayton wrote a new paragraph in the 2018 draft narrative, punishing the Clippers with 19 points and 22 rebounds. He gobbled up 9 offensive rebounds in a game where each team needed three shot attempts for every made one. He also blocked four, blockading the paint for all but a stretch of the third quarter.

Ivica Zubac gamely battled with him, earning a career-high 40 minutes and recording his third straight double-double (13 points, 14 rebounds). He, too, was a menace on the offensive glass, bringing back seven possessions.

The Clippers needed every extra chance they could muster. They started the game ice cold, falling to a quick 10-2 deficit and missing 6 of their first 7 treys. Paul George, who scored 23 points on the strength of 18 tries from the charity stripe, settled for early jump shots and missed. With him in perimeter mode, the Clippers found it difficult to wind up their offense with any consistency, especially against a long-armed Phoenix squad that challenged everything. The Clippers suffered through a six-minute second-quarter scoring drought to trail 50-36 at the half.

But, once again, the third quarter was the Clippers’ quarter. Tyronn Lue’s charges fired out of the break with downhill determination. Easy buckets at the rim begat better ball movement, and makes followed. The Clippers grabbed hold of the game and the tempo, slowing down a Phoenix squad that was conspicuously pacy through the first half.

A 30-19 third quarter brought the Clippers within short reach of the Suns. But, they would never touch them.

The fourth quarter was a damp squib. At one point, the Clippers and Suns combined to miss 14 straight field-goal attempts. More than three minutes of game action, if you can call it “action”, elapsed without a bucket. These teams were spent.

Devin Booker, who ditched his protective mask in the third quarter, found that clearer vision didn’t lead to better results. He scored a game-high 25 points but struggled to his second straight subpar shooting night, making just 8 of 22 field goal attempts and missing all 5 of his threes.

Reggie Jackson couldn’t provide the Clippers with another bailout. He scored 20 but managed just 4 in the fourth quarter after propping up the offense for much of the second and third. In another indicator of Game 4’s lack of punch, he was the only player wearing either uniform to make multiple threes. He made two.

After Devin Booker fouled out on a blocking call that was successfully challenged into a charge, Chris Paul (18 points, game-high 7 assists) navigated the Suns offense through the game’s final minute, which included 13 total free throws in the final 14 seconds. Paul made 3 of his own final 4 tries, giving the Clippers one last hope before he iced it.

Among those other free throw attempts were two intentional misses by the Clippers, one that led to a loose-ball foul on DeMarcus Cousins’ offensive rebound attempt, which led to Cousin’s own intentional miss that never came near the rim. (For what it’s worth, Paul George made 3 of 6 free throws in those 14 seconds, with one of those misses intended.)

The Clippers and Suns will return to Phoenix on Monday, with the Suns looking to close out the Western Conference Finals.

Notables

  • There was one thing these teams could hit: one another. They combined for four technical fouls and many more hard shoves and shoulders.
  • Rajon Rondo didn’t record a second on the floor, after appearing in each of the Clippers’ last five games.
  • Paul George led the Clippers with 42 minutes, 16 rebounds, and 18 free throw attempts. He continues to fill the stat sheet despite his absent shot (1-9 3PT).
  • Abdel Nader played five minutes for the Suns, seeing his first game action since March 21. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in April.

Thanks for reading this recap of the Clippers’ Game 4 loss to the Suns. Stay on the lookout for more analysis of this series and an episode of TLTJTP soon.

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Thomas Wood

Thomas Wood

Writing about the Clippers since 2014 and also since 2019.

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