Sports

Captains of Crunch Time

These are the times that have defined Sam Cassell, who's doing big things in the postseason after all these years.

Apparently, he can still get it done in the fourth quarter too.

The veteran point guard added to his long list of clutch playoff shots Sunday night with a key three-pointer that helped the Clippers hold off the Phoenix Suns in a 114-107 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center.

The Suns had silenced a sellout crowd, using a 12-0 run to pull to within a point of the Clippers, 106-105, with 1 minute 12 seconds remaining in the game.

Then Cassell and power forward Elton Brand went to work, the co-captains playing the two-man game that had helped to secure so many Clippers victories this season.

Cassell had an assist on Brand's 12-foot jump shot that provided a little breathing room for the Clippers.

After the Suns missed a three-pointer that would have tied the score, Cassell drilled a 25-footer (on a pass from Brand) that ignited the crowd and enabled the Clippers to finally exhale with less than 28 seconds to play.

The teams are tied, 2-2, in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Phoenix on Tuesday for Game 5 at US Airways Center, and Cassell said he's ready for the next big challenge.

"I always want the ball in my hands with the game on the line," Cassell said. "You know that's my time."

The up-tempo Suns seem to have their hands full again with another determined Staples tenant. The Lakers took a three-games-to-one lead before the Suns came back to win their first-round series, and the Clippers are still counterpunching.

They overcame the loss of center Chris Kaman, who sat out because of a right shoulder injury, and shook off an emotional three-point defeat in Game 3.

"It was a big game for us," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We didn't want to go down 3-1. Not that it's undoable, obviously, [the Suns] just finished doing it. Now it's down to a three-game series, and we have to win one in Phoenix."

Brand, who fared better against the Suns' double- and triple-team schemes than he had in Game 3, had a game-high 30 points, plus nine rebounds and eight assists.

"That two-man game worked really well," Brand said. "It's worked all season."

Swingman Corey Maggette had 18 points and 15 rebounds in his first starting assignment of the playoffs as the Clippers went with a smaller lineup, out of necessity and preference.

Guard Raja Bell continued his hot shooting with 33 points — he made seven of 12 three-point shots — but the Clippers contained point guard Steve Nash, the two-time league MVP, who had 11 assists but only eight points — two after halftime, and none in the final quarter.

"Sam Cassell hit a big shot down the stretch," Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "But we still had a chance. Now it's two out of three with two games at home."

The Clippers are in a better position than they could have been, and players said their No. 1 closer did it for them again.

"He's been making big shots for this team all season, for his whole career, and especially in the playoffs," Maggette said. "It's good to have him."

The 13-year veteran scored 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had nine assists in a timely bounce-back performance.

Cassell missed eight of 10 shots and scored only six points Friday in the Clippers' 94-91 loss in Game 3, in part because the Suns assigned 6-foot-7 Shawn Marion to defend the 6-3 guard.

Moreover, Cassell was on the bench for all but the final 1:17 of the fourth quarter Friday because of Marion's defense, and because Dunleavy was concerned about Cassell's defense against the Suns' quick perimeter players.

With Kaman sidelined and his team needing a victory to pull even in the series, Dunleavy turned to the guy who has played in 112 postseason games, sending Cassell back into the game with 7:19 left and the Clippers leading, 100-93.

Vladimir Radmanovic, who started for Kaman, and Cassell made consecutive three-pointers to extend the lead to 106-93 at the 5:54 mark, and the crowd erupted as D'Antoni called a timeout.

Um, not so fast.

The Suns again displayed the ability that enabled them to lead the NBA in scoring, and the Clippers went cold, combining to create the type of finish that Cassell loves.

"I knew in Game 4, I was going to be in [during] the fourth quarter a lot," Cassell said. "Everybody doesn't like to have the ball in their hands in the fourth quarter; I do.

"If we lose, you can blame it on me."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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