Five things to watch in Game 2 of Suns-Clippers first-round playoff series

The Phoenix Suns will look to avenge their Game 1 loss against the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night at Footprint Center. 

Phoenix lost Game 1, 115-110, and had several problems that affected it throughout the game. The Suns did not have backup guard Cam Payne available, which led to coach Monty Williams’ using uncommon rotations. 

Phoenix also failed to locate star forward Kevin Durant throughout the game. Durant finished with the most points on Phoenix’s team (27), but he did not score in the first and third quarters. He also took one shot in the final six minutes of the game, when the Suns were often within a two-possession deficit. 

The Suns will need to win Game 2 in order to even the series and falling in an 0-2 hole. Only 20 teams in 282 seven-game series have come back to win after losing the first two contests, according to Odds Shark

Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s game. 

How will Monty Williams use his bench? 

The Suns’ bench had a terrible performance in Game 1. Five of six bench players were at least a minus-8 in the game, and Williams went to some lineups that had been hardly used throughout the season. 

Some of that was due to the Suns’ absence of backup guard Cam Payne, who will also not play Tuesday due to lower back soreness.

Backup wing Terrence Ross, who has had 30- and 24-point games for the Suns this season, only played four minutes. He is likely to provide Phoenix a scoring boost if given an opportunity. 

Backup forward T.J. Warren impressed in games when Durant was absent with a left ankle sprain. He did not see the floor in Game 1. 

No matter what the Suns do, they will have to have lineups that do not stray too far away from their strengths. They tried to match Los Angeles’ length with forwards Kawhi Leonard and Nicolas Batum, but outside of a 22-point effort from starting forward Torrey Craig, it did not work well. 

Backup guard Damion Lee is also a viable option since he had the third-best 3-point percentage (44.5) in the NBA this season. 

Kevin Durant’s touches 

Durant was held scoreless in the first quarter Sunday for just the second time in his playoff career, according to Stathead. That cannot happen. 

Granted, Durant missed all four shots in the period and had an open look from the corner on the first play of the game that would have given the Suns a boost. But he cannot fall out of Phoenix’s offensive attack for multiple possessions. 

Notably, Durant took only one shot in the final six minutes of the Suns’ loss Sunday. That just can’t happen. 

If the Suns are truly intent on getting more out of Durant, they need to find a way to get him the ball in his favorite spots, likely around the left and right elbow and in the post on either block. Los Angeles did a good job of bringing late double teams and shading Durant away from his desired spots. 

Stopping Kawhi Leonard 

Leonard had an incredible 38-point, five-rebound and five-assist performance Sunday that included two 3-pointers to give the Clippers two-possession leads in the final minutes. 

He was the best player on the floor in Game 1 and will need to take over since Los Angeles does not have starting forward Paul George, who is expected to miss this series with a right knee sprain. 

The Suns matched up Leonard with Craig and even Durant late in Sunday’s game, but the Clippers were able to switch Leonard on to the Suns’ bigs, which allowed him to shoot more jump shots without much of a contest. Whether it’s bringing a hard hedge to Leonard or icing him to the sideline, Phoenix will need to have a better game plan to contain him. 

Another thing: the Clippers started Leonard on starting center Deandre Ayton so he would switch on to the Suns’ ball-handlers in the pick and roll. It made it more difficult for Paul and Booker to pass, but Ayton was left with smaller players on him in the switch. The Suns have to locate him to take advantage. 

Don’t worry about Scott Foster 

We’ve all seen this: Scott Foster, a referee who has officiated 14 straight playoff losses that Paul has played in, will be the crew chief for Tuesday’s contest. 

Foster has made controversial calls against the Suns in playoff games, including down the stretch of their Game 2 win over the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals two years ago. Thankfully for Phoenix, it won the game on a last-second lob from the baseline out of bounds for Ayton, which is now known as the ‘Valley-Oop.’ 

Foster’s officiating may very well not be an issue, but if controversial calls are made, the Suns cannot panic. They have several issues to correct from Sunday’s loss and must focus on that. 

Salvage this series 

This is a must-win for Phoenix. Lose, and it has to win at least one game in Los Angeles in order to not get swept. 

The Suns are favored by 8.5 points by DraftKings even though they lost Game 1. On paper, they are the better team and if they can correct things, they have a great chance to win games moving forward. 

Leezus Media will have ten takeaways from the game tomorrow. Stay tuned for more content.

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