Sports

Night Falls on Los Angeles

SportsBasketballNBAArts and CultureHistorySteve NashShawn Marion

PHOENIX — Getting here was their biggest accomplishment, something to build on in the future for a group that had little to celebrate in the past.

And let the record show that the Clippers did more than many thought they could, though they didn't do enough Monday night to slow the Phoenix Suns in a 127-107 loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals at US Airways Center.

The greatest season in Clippers history ended painfully for them in the desert, buried under a dizzying barrage of long-range shots.

It was basketball the Suns' way from start to finish, and that meant the Clippers' journey wouldn't continue.

Steve Nash made sure of it.

Reenergized after a three-day break between games, Phoenix's two-time MVP point guard rediscovered his shooting touch and pushed his teammates to go as fast as they could.

Nash scored 29 points and had 11 assists. He didn't appear to be the same guy who shot 21.7% from three-point range in the first six games of the series, making four of five shots from beyond the arc Monday.

He orchestrated an offense in which all seven Suns who played scored in double figures. The Suns led by eight points at halftime, by 15 after the third quarter and by as many as 22 in the fourth, which quickly became another series-clinching celebration for them and their fans in a sold-out arena.

Nash also had played a big role in the Suns' becoming the eighth team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series in the first round against the Lakers. The Suns closed out the Lakers with a one-sided victory here May 6, and Monday they accomplished the feat against another Staples Center tenant to advance to the conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

Forward Shawn Marion was another key figure for Phoenix, often befuddling the Clippers inside throughout the series, which he did again in the elimination game, scoring 30 points and making five of nine three-point attempts.

The Suns shot 60% from the field and 55.6% from three-point range (they made 15 three-pointers). Spectacular shooting, the big 1-2 scoring punch of Nash and Marion and contributions from everyone who participated proved to be too many balls for the Clippers to juggle.

Power forward Elton Brand was dazzling in his first postseason experience, and capped the impressive run with 36 points on 16-for-26 shooting. The Clippers had six players in double figures but made no three-pointers (they attempted only four) and didn't deliver enough on defense.

"It's definitely hard, man, when they're shooting the ball as well as they did," said swingman Corey Maggette, who scored 18 points off the bench. "They came out blazing and hitting shots, and it's also tough for us for Steve Nash to get some rest.

"This guy came in firing, hitting a lot of three-point shots he hadn't been making this whole series. That put us in a bind, and Shawn Marion killed us tonight from the three-point line. Tonight, he was on fire."

The Clippers also shot well, 52.6%, but that wasn't their main point of emphasis against the NBA's highest-scoring team in the regular season.

Phoenix finally knocked out the Clippers, ending a stirring series, because their offense was more than the visitors could handle.

"Unfortunately, we knew they were capable of putting a game together like what we saw tonight," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "They got on a roll shooting the three, spacing the court. In a one-game series, they can be unbeatable."

Especially with the incomparable Nash well-rested, the Suns said.

"The guy has been phenomenal," Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I know for sure, almost 99% of the time, he's unbelievable. Sooner or later, he was going to get his legs back and get his confidence going."

Phoenix became the first NBA team to win at least two seven-game series in one postseason since Dallas did it in 2003. The Suns' starting backcourt of Nash and Raja Bell were members of that team.

"We are a resilient team," Nash said. "We have been through a lot this year, with injuries, lack of size, depth and whatever you want to talk about. We have overcome a lot, and we've turned out to be a really good team."

The Clippers were too this season, finishing a game short of qualifying for a finals series for the first time in franchise history.

Players, however, said the Clippers should have climbed higher. They'll have the off-season to ponder "what ifs" about many moments in the series, including losing Game 5 here despite having a three-point lead with 3.6 seconds remaining in the first of two overtimes.

"We should have closed it out earlier," swingman Cuttino Mobley said. "We shouldn't have even been here. If you know you could get farther, why would you settle for less? It is what it is."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsBasketballNBAArts and CultureHistorySteve NashShawn Marion
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