Five things to watch for in Suns’ Game 4 against Clippers Saturday

The Suns face the Clippers in Game 4 of their first-round series of the NBA playoffs Saturday at 12:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised by TNT. 

Phoenix is looking to take a 3-1 series lead after it won Game 3 Thursday night, 129-124. 

The Clippers will again be without forward Kawhi Leonard, who also missed Game 3 due to a right knee sprain. Los Angeles is also without its second-best player, forward Paul George, who also has a right knee sprain. 

George is not expected to return this series, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBA Countdown Friday night the Clippers “might have to go the rest of the way” without Leonard. 

Still, Los Angeles is a difficult challenge since it has a deep bench and guard Russell Westrbook has performed well in this series. The Clippers hit 15 3-pointers in Game 3 and Westbrook had 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting with 12 assists and eight rebounds. 

Backup guard Norman Powell, who was inserted into the starting lineup for Leonard, led the Clippers with 42 points on 15-of-23 shooting. 

Here are five things to watch for Saturday’s Game 4. 

Early tip factor 

The Suns and Clippers have a quick turnaround for Game 4 since they will tip off just 41 hours after their tip from Game 3. 

Both teams were fatigued Thursday. Well, unless it’s Booker. Westbrook and Powell played 40 and 41 minutes, respectively, for the Clippers in Game 3, and they will need to be relied upon again for a victory. 

Booker played 45 minutes, while forward Kevin Durant played 42 minutes. The Suns will need to rely on those two players but also must find chunks in the game in which they can rest. Phoenix needs to maximize those two for its championship chances, and they would likely appreciate any rest they can get.

Role players will need to step up in this time, so expect the Suns to have potentially a bigger game from center Deandre Ayton, who was not able to get consistent touches against the Clippers’ smalls in Game 3. Point guard Chris Paul, who had 11 points on 18 shots in Game 3, can also play better. 

Can Booker do it again?

Booker has figured out the Clippers’ multiple defenses. He has averaged 36.3 points in three games, which is the most of any player this postseason. 

Booker exposed Los Angeles’ five-guard lineup Thursday and got to the basket at will. He made 15 shots inside the arc, including an acrobatic floater that gave the Suns a 125-116 lead with 42 seconds left after a 3-point play. 

Booker has been able to take a jump in scoring while forward Kevin Durant has been limited. Durant has seen double or even triple teams at times, but he is still averaging 26.7 points this series on 51 percent shooting. Durant had 28 points in Game 3. 

If the Clippers focus on Booker, Durant will have more chances himself. 

No Leonard, so the plan should be similar 

The Clippers will be without Leonard, so they will not have a late-game star other than Westbrook. 

Powell stepped up for Los Angeles and busted the Suns with seven 3-pointers. He has proven in his tenure in the NBA he can score well off the bench and did so as a starter Thursday. 

Los Angeles played one other game when Leonard and George were out and Westbrook was available. The Clippers beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 141-132, March 29, when Westbrook had 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting with 10 assists. Los Angeles hit 22 3-pointers in that game and shot 61.5 percent from the field. 

The Clippers will need all hands on deck to beat the Suns, who have four starters who can get at least 20 points a game. We’ve now seen Booker or Durant can get 30- or even 40-plus. 

Can the Suns force the issue again?

Just one month ago, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined after he complained about the Los Angeles Lakers’ 46 free-throw attempts in a loss for Phoenix. Thursday, the Suns got 46 free throws themselves. 

Phoenix got a friendly whistle, which has been rare in recent memory. The Suns perhaps cannot rely on that to happen again but can continue to attack Los Angeles’ guards, who are energetic but also a bit reckless. 

Bench rotations pushed to finalized 

The Suns have seemed to find a better rhythm with their bench. They played wings Josh Okogie (21 minutes) and T.J. Warren (four), guards Damion Lee (11) and Landry Shamet (four) and center Bismack Biyombo (11) Thursday. 

Okogie only made 1-of-5 shots but had a positive impact with seven boards. Biyombo was an incredible +18 in 11 minutes, and Lee – who had the third-best 3-point percentage this season (44.5) – made two key triples in the game. 

Surprisingly, Phoenix has not played wing Terrence Ross after Williams said he could have played more after Game 1, when he played just four minutes. But he is available along with center Jock Landale and forward Ish Wainwright if the Suns need to go deep into their bench. 

Stay tuned to Leezus Media for more from Saturday’s game, including 10 takeaways and another pertinent reaction. 

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