Los Angeles, CA—-The Clippers came out flat and played uninspired basketball for four quarters. They were frustrated. They were done.
The LA Clippers fairy-tale run ended Wednesday night, they try to win a fourth elimination game this postseason while trying to do it without superstar Kawhi Leonard and Ivica Zubac was a tall task from a depleted lineup.
In Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at the Staples Center, the Suns clinched the series with a 130-103 victory which gave Phoenix a four-games-to two decision.
Phoenix move on to the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years. The Clippers had advanced to the conference finals for the first time in 37 years in Los Angeles, but sadly their season came to close.
“We would have been going on,” said Paul George. “This series would have been a lot different… we were inches away.”
George, who had played more minutes than anyone in these NBA playoffs, scored 21 points, had only two more baskets than turnovers, and made just three baskets in the second half. He was dead tired.
“I thought we ran out of gas,” said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue.
At break, the Suns took a 66-57 lead into the locker room with the momentum.
The fatigue crept in against the Clippers. Reggie Jackson, who played huge minutes missed on eight of 12 attempts. Terance Mann, who scored 39 points in the thriller against the Utah Jazz, had just five. LA were outscored by 20 points in the paint area and out hustled by nine points on second-chance balls. They were completely gassed.
With 4:01 left in the third, Phoenix led by 17 points, but the Clippers went on a 10-0 spurt. A Nicolas Batum layup, George free throws, a Marcus Morris trey, a Batum three, and they were climbing their way back into the game, trailing by seven points with 1:43 left in the quarter.
“It sucks that it’s cut short … but couldn’t be prouder… couldn’t be prouder,” said a tearful Jackson.
Chris Paul has never been in an NBA Finals, and suddenly, this time, he played like a player on a mission.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Paul hit a layup, another layup, a runner in the lane, and a fall-away jumper, then capped his run with a long trey while being knocked down before hitting a free throw.
Paul scored 41 points and Devin Booker chipped in 22 to send the Phoenix Suns to their third finals appearance in franchise history. They will play either the Atlanta Hawks or Milwaukee Bucks, who are tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
”He was tired,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of Paul. ”He was still making those kind of plays, getting to the basket, 3s, orchestrating everything.
LA briefly amped themselves and their fans with a 10-0 run that drew them close to 89-82. Morris and Nicolas Batum each hit 3-pointers.
But Paul had a different plan, his own 8-0 run, including two treys, that sent Phoenix into the fourth leading 97-83 and they never looked back.
”I’m just so happy for all the people around me,” Paul said after the game, ”and the Clippers are my family, too. These fans, Billy Crystal, that’s my family. This is a team I have the utmost respect for, I’ll always be a Clipper.
The Suns last made the NBA Finals in 1993, when they were led by Charles Barkley and lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.
Their only other finals appearance was in 1976, a loss to the Boston Celtics in six games.
”We knew we broke them,” Suns Jae Crowder said. ”There’s no better sign. That’s a great feeling to have.”
Suns: They were 17 of 31 from 3-point range and owned a 54-34 edge in the paint. Tied 50-all, Phoenix outscored LA 16-7, started by Crowder’s 13 points – including three 3-pointers – to go into halftime leading 66-57.
Clippers: George scored at least 20 points in his first 19 games to begin the playoffs. He had six points in the half on 3-of-8 shooting, missing all three of his 3-point attempts.