Los Angeles, CA — — If the LA Clippers plan to survive the Western Conference finals, they are going to have to find ways to score in the fourth. The ball bounced around the rim, but wouldn’t go in.
After Saturday’s collapse in the fourth quarter, the Clippers went down 84-80 at Staples Center in front of a sellout crowd of 18,222. With loss the Clippers trails Phoenix 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals. Teams leading 3-1 are 52-4 in conference finals.
The Clippers came back from 0-2 deficits to beat Dallas and Utah and reach the West finals for the first time in franchise history.
“It’s going to be hard and tough, but it has to be one game at a time,” George said. “Play as hard as we can in Game 5.”
Paul George and company needs three straight wins to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time, they need to step up the intensity in game 5.
“The most important thing is to figure out how we can be better than this game,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said after the game. “We’re ready for the challenge.”
Jackson said he believed the Clippers played well defensive side of the ball, but was disappointed in his own offensive performance. He had 20 points on 8-of-24 shooting.
Jackson is likely not the only player looking for a better offensive showing, especially after a hard-to-watch fourth quarter.
Phoenix can advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 with a victory Monday night in Phoenix.
The Clippers shot a dismal 13 of 44 in the first half. LA couldn’t buy a basket in the half: George and Jackson were 3 of 11 and Marcus Morris was 1 of 6 from the floor.
Phoenix squirted out to a 14-2 and 20-9 lead in the first quarter. The Clippers made just one of their first seven shots — a dunk by Zubac. Seven of George’s 11 points in the half came on a 3-pointer and four free throws from the charity stripe.
Devin Booker picked up three fouls in the first half, two of them within minutes of each other in the second quarter. By then, the Suns were up by 16 points. It was 50-36 at the break.
LA shot 32% (27 of 83) for the contest; Phoenix shot 36% (31 of 86). The Clippers, who led the league in 3-point shooting during the regular season, made five; the Suns hit four from downtown.
“That was a slugfest,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It wasn’t Offense 101, for sure.”
With injured Kawhi Leonard watching from a suite, LA outscored the Suns 30-19 in the third after trailing by 16 in the first half.
Both teams’ offense went cold in the fourth quarter, when the Suns outscored LA 15-14.
“It was tough because we fought all the way to get it to a one-point game, and we had looks that we normally make all season and they weren’t falling,” Mann said. “The game could have easily went a whole different way if we were hitting those shots.”
LA successfully challenged a call in the final minute that led to Booker’s sixth foul of the game. Terance Mann scored and they trailed 79-76.
The final 13 seconds of the contest turned into a free-throw shooting contest, with Phoenix fouling to try to keep the Clippers off the 3-point line. Paul made 5 of 6. LA were 4 of 8.
Devon Booker scored 25 points and Deandre Ayton added 19 points and a career playoff-high 22 boards for the Suns.
George had 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists before fouling out with 1 second left. Reggie Jackson chipped in 20 points for the Clippers. Ivica Zubac had 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Both teams struggled through the fourth quarter in which they combined for 29 points.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, “We had a chance to take the lead on 12 possessions and couldn’t do it. It just wouldn’t fall for us.”
Suns: Abdel Nader saw his first action of the series after being out rehabbing his right knee. He was scoreless in five minutes.
Clippers: George scored his 430th point of the playoffs in the first quarter, giving him a career high for total points in a single postseason.