Ten takeaways from Suns’ Game 4 win over Clippers; Phoenix takes 3-1 lead

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 112-100, in Game 4 of their first-round series Saturday afternoon at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. 

Phoenix now has a 3-1 series lead against the Clippers and can close them out Tuesday at home. The Suns are in a very good position since two of the potential final three road games would be at home, and over 95 percent of teams have won a series after leading 3-1. 

Phoenix and Los Angeles played a close game throughout. The Suns led by just five points at the end of the third quarter, and only the Clippers led by double digits prior to that. 

The Suns won the fourth quarter, 29-22, and outlasted a competitive Los Angeles team, which played without forward Kawhi Leonard for the second straight game due to a sprained right knee. 

Kevin Durant (31) and Devin Booker (30) combined for 61 of the Suns’ points, including 23 of their 35 points in the third quarter. Chris Paul had 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and he also had nine assists against zero turnovers. 

The Clippers were led by guard Russell Westbrook, who had 37 points, six rebounds and four assists. 

Here are 10 takeaways from the game. 

Suns take a commanding 3-1 series lead

The Suns are in a very good position to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. 

Phoenix took advantage of an unfortunate injury to Leonard and won both games in Los Angeles. The Suns were at a disadvantage after they lost Game 1 but are now one game away from advancing. 

Saturday’s game was perceived to be one that could decide the series. If the Clippers won, they would host Game 6 at home and perhaps have an opportunity to bring Leonard back, assuming his injury is not long-term. If not, the Suns would have likely seized control. 

They did, and now they have just one more game to win to move on. They can do it Tuesday at Footprint Center. 

Phoenix pulls away in fourth quarter

The Clippers have been very competitive down the stretch of every game this series. They overcame a 9-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Suns in Game 1 and hung around the last three contests. 

Even though the Suns closed the third quarter on a 23-14 run, Los Angeles was still active and had its home fans to back it. The Clippers cut their deficit to two multiple times in the fourth quarter but the Suns responded each time. 

Paul made a pull-up shot with 10:15 left to give the Suns an 85-81 lead with 10:15 left. Durant then had a 3-point play, which came before a 3-pointer from Booker to give the Suns a 91-83 lead with 8:59 left. 

The Clippers fought back to cut the Suns’ lead to two twice more but five points from Paul in a 1:18 stretch gave the Suns a 98-91 lead with 6:17 left. Phoenix never saw its lead fall below three possessions for the rest of the game. 

“We just try to play our brand of basketball on the road,” Durant told TNT’s Chris Haynes after the game. “They're down a couple guys, their main guys. So we knew they was going to play with a lot of energy and effort these last two games. We just tried to match that.”

Booker, Durant combine for 61, take over in third

Booker dominated the second half in Game 3 Thursday. He and Durant were terrific for the Suns in the third quarter, when they created separation after they trailed 60-54 with 7:36 left. 

Booker had back-to-back 3-point plays that cut the Suns’ deficit to 62-60 with 6:49 left. Booker later found Durant for a corner 3-pointer that gave the Suns a 68-66 lead with 5:19 left, a play that forced a Los Angeles timeout. 

Durant and Booker later scored 12 points for Phoenix in the final 4:36 of the period. Booker had a fantastic play, saving the ball out of bounds on a wild possession that ended in a layup for Durant. 

Durant then hit a huge 3-pointer with 14.1 seconds left from the top of the arc, a dagger to end the period. 

The Suns gained momentum then and never really lost it in the fourth quarter. 

Paul calls game

Paul is not who he used to be, and that’s OK. The 37-year-old does not have to produce as much as a scorer now that the Suns have Durant and Booker, who can truly play 1-on-1 basketball since neither can be double-teamed without leaving one of them able to isolate. 

But Paul still proved he can close out game for the Suns. He had 12 points in the fourth quarter, including two clutch threes that extended Phoenix’s lead at opportune moments. 

Paul also had a wild shot that he threw up one hand when he thought the shot clock had expired. It effectively sealed the game for the Suns when they led 109-96 with 2:56 left. 

Paul and center Deandre Ayton are going to need to contribute, too, if Phoenix will win its first-ever championship. Paul’s game was encouraging since he proved he can close consistently after he did in Game 2 with eight fourth-quarter points. 

Bench still needs to be solidified

The Suns have not ironed out their bench rotation yet. But at the very least, they seem to have three or four players they will rely on. 

Backup guard Landry Shamet and wing Josh Okogie were the first players off the team’s bench. Shamet has not been good this series and missed both of his shot attempts, including a somewhat contested layup. 

The move was puzzling since backup guard Damion Lee, who had the third-best 3-point percentage in the NBA during the regular season, had eight points in Game 3. Lee eventually got out and played 14 minutes. He had the highest plus/minus of the Suns’ four bench players (plus-4). 

Center Bismack Biyombo played 2 minutes and had three points, two rebounds and a block. He was minus-5. 

Okogie, who started the last 25 games of the regular season for the Suns, had six points on 2-of-4 shooting. He played 25 minutes, which was the same as forward Torrey Craig. 

Phoenix has played its starters – specifically Booker and Durant – heavy minutes. Durant played 45 minutes and Booker played 41 in Game 4. 

Both players insist they could go longer, but the Suns still have to find consistency from their bench in order to keep those players healthy for multiple series.

Ayton plays engaged

Ayton did not hinder the Suns Thursday, but he certainly was not effective. 

He shot 4-of-9 from the field and was minus-5. He had an opportunity to take advantage of the Clippers’ five-guard lineups but struggled to assert himself. 

That did not happen Saturday. Ayton was targeted for the Suns’ first possession and took four of their first seven shots. He missed the first two but seemed to be encouraged by his touches and had positive play. 

Ayton had four offensive rebounds in the first quarter, including three that led to points. He had 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting – which was the second-most shots taken by a Suns player in the first half – and was plus-4, second-best of the Suns’ starters outside of Paul, who was plus-10. 

Ayton finished with his third straight double-double. He is yet to have a breakout game but is likely to do so at some point. As long as he is engaged and contributing on the glass, that is all the Suns can ask for. 

Slow first quarter, again

The first quarters have been sluggish for the Suns in this series. Saturday was no different, as the Suns were outscored 30-23 and shot just 7-of-25 from the field. 

Phoenix took a 16-3 lead with 6:55 left in the period, but things went south from there. Los Angeles took a 7-point lead and momentum into the second quarter. Shamet and Okogie checked in with the game at 16, and the Suns’ bench rotation fell into a 28-21 deficit minutes later. 

The Suns are now a minus-24 in this series in the first quarter. Phoenix is still trying to gain chemistry with Durant, so it can improve. But if it advances past this round and plays the first-seed Denver Nuggets, who have a 3-0 series lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves, it will need to have faster starts. 

Suns dominate on the glass

Thanks to Ayton, the Suns had an advantage on the glass early and finished with a 49-33 edge in the game. 

The Clippers are without Leonard and forward Paul George, who is also not expected to return to this series with a right knee sprain. They’ve had to rely extensively on their bench, which has center Myles Plumlee, but Los Angeles has also went smaller to try to contain the Suns offensively. 

Phoenix’s edge on the glass was huge, especially in a game that went down the stretch. Another note: The Suns made 21-of-27 free throws compared to the Clippers’ 8-of-10. 

Suns hold off Clippers without Leonard

Leonard’s injury was a brutal blow for the Clippers, who won Game 1 and were expected to provide a tough challenge for the Suns as the series shifted to Los Angeles. 

The Clippers brought great efforts to Games 3 and 4 but were ultimately unable to match the talent of the Suns. Booker and Durant have been great this series and combined for 61 points Saturday. They dominated the game in the third period and Paul closed it in the fourth, which showed the talent gap. 

The Suns’ Game 4 win likely decided the series. The Clippers will now have to win three straight games, two of which would be on the road. Phoenix has a very good chance to close the series Tuesday at home and should do so to get rest before moving on. 

Phoenix has chance to close, might face Denver Nuggets next

Closeout games are often the hardest to win, players and coaches say. The Suns have a chance to beat Los Angeles at home but cannot take it lightly. 

Westbrook, who was commended by Durant and Paul after the game, will not quit, along with the Clipper bench. Lue coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, who overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, in 2016. 

The Suns had a similar opportunity to close out the Clippers at Game 5 in the Western Conference Finals two years ago but came out flat. It led to an extra game that may have taken some key rest time away from Phoenix before the NBA Finals. 

Phoenix cannot let up Tuesday. If it takes care of business, it will have time to prepare for Denver, which will be an incredibly difficult challenge. 

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