Five things to WATCH for in Suns’ opportunity to close out Clippers in Game 5

The Phoenix Suns are one win away from advancing to the Western Conference semifinals. Phoenix faces the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of its first-round series Tuesday night, leading it three games to one. 

The Suns have very good odds to win this series, as over 95 percent of NBA teams who have led 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won. Phoenix has a chance to close the Clippers out in Game 5 at home and would have another home contest if Los Angeles wins Games 5 and 6. 

Phoenix has won the last three games against the Clippers, who are without forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Each of them has a right knee sprain.  

The Suns have won the last three games by an average of 10.3 points but still have to close out a competitive Los Angeles team, which has fought hard even without its top two players. 

Here are five things to watch for Game 5. 

Can the Suns get off to a fast start? 

Phoenix has not played well in the first quarter of this series. The Clippers have outscored the Suns by a combined 24 points in that period, but the Suns have recovered well in each second half.

The win is all that matters, but the Suns will need to match and even exceed the urgency from a desperate Clipper team early. Los Angeles will play hard early but if Phoenix can build a lead, it could discourage the Clippers and their hopes to come back and win this series.  

Can the Suns' guard Russell Westbrook, Clippers’ guards? 

The Suns have found a way to win each of their last three games but have not been able to contain Russell Westbrook, who is averaging 31.7 points on 54.4 percent shooting with 7.0 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks in that stretch. 

Westbrook, who won the league’s MVP award in 2017, is at his best when he’s able to control a team’s playmaking and scoring. Injuries to George and Leonard have allowed him to thrive, and the Suns have not been able to slow him down. 

Los Angeles also has three other guards who are averaging at least 10 points in this series: Norman Powell (20.5); Eric Gordon (12.0); and Terance Mann (10.8). Backup Bones Hyland is not far behind at 8.5 points per game. 

The Clippers have used five-guard lineups to try and test the Suns defensively. They have to find ways to defend and take advantage of smaller lineups offensively.

Kevin Durant and Devin Booker have the opportunity to shine in the closeout game 

As we noted on Leezus Media’s Twitter account, Suns forward Kevin Durant has been exceptional in closeout games in his career. 

He has averaged 31.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 32 closeout chances. He has a record of 20-12 in those games. 

Suns guard Devin Booker has also played in seven closeout games and averaged 25.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. Booker had 47 points on 15-of-22 shooting in the Suns’ Game 6 win of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2021. He then had 34 points on 11-of-25 from the field with 11 rebounds and four assists in the Suns’ Game 4 win over the Denver Nuggets in the semifinal round. 

No matter what the Clippers bring to the table, the Suns have the best two players left in this series. If they provide special performances, they could overwhelm the Clippers like they have in each of the last three games.

Does Tyronn Lue have any last adjustments up his sleeve?

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue led the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 when they became the first team in an NBA Finals to overcome a 3-1 deficit and beat the 73-win Golden State Warriors.

Lue will not quit and neither will his Clipper team. He has thrown plenty of curveballs in the Suns' direction in terms of adjustments, but he may still have some pitches he has yet to throw.

Los Angeles' five-guard lineup has given the Suns defensive fits, and the Clippers have a much deeper bench. He could try to experiment with some things to frustrate Phoenix.

Westbrook is the Clippers' lone star, but it may be better if the team puts together an effort by the committee to win.

Phoenix has matched everything Los Angeles has thrown at it, which is why it leads this series. It may have to step up to one more Lue adjustment to win it.

Win or loss dictates the next series 

If the Suns and Nuggets each win their games Tuesday night, their semifinal series would begin Saturday. If either of those series goes beyond five games, the semifinal matchup would begin May 1. 

Many have looked ahead to the potential Suns and Nuggets matchup. Phoenix is facing a shorthanded Clipper team and Denver won the first three games of its series against the Minnesota Timberwolves. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history. 

No matter how it gets done, the Suns are hoping to move on and continue to pursue their first-ever championship. 

Game 5 between the Suns and Clippers will tip off at 7 p.m. PT Tuesday on TNT. 

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