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Clippers beat Suns in Game 3 to cut series deficit in half

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Clippers forward Paul George closely defends Suns guard Chris Paul during the first half of Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The Clippers defeat the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals with a gritty defensive performance Thursday. Here’s a recap.

Follow along as the Clippers host the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals on Thursday. The Clippers trail the best-of-seven series 2-0 after a pair of narrow losses in Phoenix.

Clippers take Game 3, 106-92

Clippers guard Terance Mann scores on a put-back against the Suns in Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

After three games in the Western Conference finals, the Clippers are following the same formula that got them this far.

After dropping the opening two games in Phoenix, the Clippers took Game 3, 106-92, by staying in control throughout. Though the Suns cut what was an 18-point lead to as little as six early in the fourth quarter, the Clippers surged back in front and there was little drama as time wound down.

“Team is resilient and we always believe,” Reggie Jackson told reporters. “We never give in and never say die. We never really have doubt.”

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue added: “I don’t like (being down 2-0 in the series). But we’ve been a resilient team all season long.”

Defense will be the story of the night, as Patrick Beverley held Devin Booker to 15 points on 5-of-21 shooting. In his return from COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Chris Paul struggled, shooting 5 of 19 from the field and scoring just 15 points with 12 assists.

Paul George was the leading scorer for the Clippers, just missing a triple-double with 27 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. He was followed by Reggie Jackson, who scored 23 to go with strong defense on Paul throughout the night. Ivica Zubac finished with a double-double of 15 points and 16 rebounds. Terance Mann, who started at the last minute in place of Marcus Morris, sparked a key third-quarter run to finish with 12 points.

“They outplayed us tonight,” Paul said. "... You could tell they had a lot more energy.”

For Phoenix, five players were in double digits with Deandre Ayton leading with 18 points and 12 rebounds. The Suns shot below 40% from the field and turned the ball over 10 times.

Game 4 is 6 p.m. Saturday at Staples Center.

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Suns’ Jae Crowder fouls out

Suns forward Jae Crowder tries to block a shot by Clippers guard Reggie Jackson during Game 3.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Another blow for the Suns as Jae Crowder fouls out with 4:51 to go. He finishes with an underwhelming nine points and six rebounds on the night.

Cameron Johnson replaces him and, one assumes, will be on the court as long as this one stays competitive.

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Clippers stave off Phoenix run, now lead by 11

Clippers guard Reggie Jackson ties up Suns forward Cameron Johnson during Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

A huge 3-pointer for Reggie Jackson prompts a Phoenix timeout.

The Suns had been on a 12-0 run, cutting an 18-point lead to six, but the Clippers answered with a 5-0 run of their own. They now lead 94-83, having staved off what could be Phoenix’s best attempt at a comeback, with 6:02 left in the fourth quarter.

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Suns fight back after Clippers take largest lead of game

Clippers forward Paul George drives against the defense of Suns forward Jae Crowder and center Deandre Ayton during Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

For a moment there, it looked like the Clippers could turn this one into a blowout.

The Clippers extended the lead to 18 points after two Paul George free throws, but the Suns have answered with a 7-0 run cut their deficit to 11. After a Tyronn Lue timeout, it’s 89-78 with 8:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.

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Paul George hits half-court shot to end third quarter

Clippers forward Paul George tries to power his way to a shot against Phoenix's Devin Booker and Jae Crowder.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

If there’s a way to keep momentum on the Clippers’ side, that was it.

After Phoenix cut the Clippers’ lead to eight points, Paul George made a half-court shot as time expired to bring it back to 11 going into the fourth. The Clippers now lead 80-69.

George leads in scoring with 23 points to go with 11 rebounds. Phoenix hung around after the Clippers made a run early in the third, but will need to find some scoring to make a game of this.

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Clippers in control late in third quarter

Clippers guard Terance Mann celebrates after scoring against the Suns in Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

A 21-3 run has the Clippers in firm control of this game.

Behind a strong individual effort from Terance Mann, the Clippers lead 71-58 with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter. They’re holding Phoenix to 38.3% shooting from the field and 28.6% from 3-point range. Neither Devin Booker nor Chris Paul have gotten going, and thus the Suns’ offense has sputtered.

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Devin Booker has four fouls; double technical fouls handed to Booker and Patrick Beverley

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley fouls Suns guard Devin Booker during Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Devin Booker has committed three fouls in the last couple of minutes and he heads to the bench with four on the night.

On top of that, he and Patrick Beverley picked up a double technical.

The Clippers have grabbed the momentum midway through the third quarter, leading 66-56 with 5:17 left.

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Mann going off in the third quarter

Terance Mann already has eight points in the third quarter. Suns coach Monty Williams called timeout after Mann collected an Ivica Zubac miss and finished at the rim to put the Clippers ahead by three points.

Mann had a quiet first half after being inserted into the starting lineup just before tipoff, but he’s up to 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting for the night. We’ll see if he can keep playing hero for the Clippers after scoring 39 in Game 6 against Utah.

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Cameron Payne won’t return because of ankle injury

The Suns have announced that Cameron Payne won’t return to Game 3 after injuring an ankle. Payne was their leading scorer with 29 points in Game 2. He played just four minutes in the first half before he left the game with a limp.

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Suns lead by two at halftime

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley fouls Suns guard Devin Booker late in the first half of Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Not an ideal second quarter for the Clippers.

The Suns outscored the Clippers by 10 in the quarter and take a 48-46 lead into halftime. That despite Phoenix’s two best players, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, combining for 4-of-20 shooting from the field.

Frustration seemed to boil over for Paul George, who pounded the ball after a Phoenix 3-pointer off a loose ball recovery. George has 13 points at the half to lead the Clippers, followed by Ivica Zubac, who has 11. Deandre Ayton is the only double-digit scorer for Phoenix, with 10 points to go with six rebounds.

George might have given the Clippers some momentum going into the half, rising for a slam that brought the crowd to its feet. Still, the Clippers will need to come up with something in the second half to avoid going down 3-0 in the series — a deficit from which no team has ever come back.

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Suns take the lead as Rajon Rondo struggles

The Suns have pulled into a 35-33 lead with 5:47 to go in the first half on the back of a 14-4 run.

After the Clippers went the entire first quarter without committing a turnover, they’ve had four in the second. Rajon Rondo has three. And, though plus-minus isn’t the most reliable stat over a single game, Rondo is a minus-8 over eight minutes.

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Clippers leading by eight at the end of first quarter

Clippers center Ivica Zubac blocks a layup by Suns guard Cameron Payne.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

According to Mike Breen, the Clippers currently hold their largest lead of the series.

They’re up 29-21 at the end of the first quarter. Phoenix has struggled in the backcourt as Devin Booker deals with a broken nose and Chris Paul comes back from the health and safety protocols. To make matters worse, Cameron Payne seemed to be limping at the end of the first.

Meanwhile, the Clippers already have scoring from seven players. Reggie Jackson is their leading scorer with eight points, though the Clippers are shooting just 3 of 13 from 3-point range as a team.

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Clippers up by two toward the end of first quarter

A few notable things going the Clippers’ way right now:

  • Devin Booker is 0-for-5 shooting from the field, thanks in part to strong defense from Patrick Beverley
  • Chris Paul also has yet to make a shot — he’s 0 for 3
  • Ivica Zubac already has eight rebounds to go with five points — the Clippers are outrebounding Phoenix 14-9

We’ll see how much of this holds throughout the night, but all worth keeping an eye on. The Clippers lead 21-19 with 2:30 to go in the first.

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Jae Crowder takes elbow to face from Paul George, stays in the game

Suns forward Jae Crowder recoils after getting hit in the face by a Paul George elbow as he attempted a shot during Game 3.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Jae Crowder is laying on the court grabbing his jaw after taking a shot from Paul George.

George was trying to lean into Crowder to draw a foul while shooting a 3-pointer and his elbow connected with Crowder’s jaw. As Mike Breen said on the broadcast, the NBA is looking to change the rule that results in plays like that being called defensive fouls.

It looks like Crowder will stay in the game. The play was not reviewed. It’s 20-19 Clippers with 4:06 left in the first quarter.

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Clippers take an early lead

Clippers guard Terance Mann applies defensive pressure as Clippers guard Chris Paul makes a pass.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Clippers lead by three as we go into the first break nearly midway through the first quarter.

Chris Paul has missed both of his shots, but he and Devin Booker have three assists each for the Suns. Mikal Bridges is in foul trouble, having picked up two personals in the first two minutes.

The Clippers have gotten points from four of their five starters, with Reggie Jackson leading the way at six. Paul George is close behind at five points. It’s 18-15 as things stand.

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Suns strike first in Game 3

Deandre Ayton hits a floater off a short roll, and we’re off and running in Game 3. It’s 2-0 Suns.

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Terance Mann a late add to Clippers starting lineup

Clippers guard Terance Mann elevates for a layup.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

With minutes until tipoff, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue shifted his lineup, with Terance Mann starting for Marcus Morris.

The change doesn’t seem injury related — Morris is reportedly still available to play. Mann started the first two games of the series.

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Clippers stick with big lineup to start Game 3

Clippers center Ivica Zubac defends in the post against Suns center Deandre Ayton in Game 2.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

After making two changes to the starting lineup in Game 2, coach Tyronn Lue is keeping his starting five intact for Game 3, with Ivica Zubac at center to match up against Deandre Ayton.

The lone change for Phoenix is, as expected, Chris Paul slotting in for Cameron Payne. Paul returns from the league’s health and safety protocols after missing the first two games of the series. Full starters are listed below

Clippers starting lineup:

  • Reggie Jackson
  • Patrick Beverley
  • Paul George
  • Marcus Morris
  • Ivica Zubac

Suns starting lineup:

  • Chris Paul
  • Devin Booker
  • Mikal Bridges
  • Jae Crowder
  • Deandre Ayton

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Masked man

Devin Booker is wearing a facemask during warmups to protect his nose. During Game 2, he sustained a laceration on his nose during a collision with Patrick Beverley. Both players left the game bleeding and later returned, with Booker receiving stitches.

According to ESPN’s Marc Spears, Booker called Richard Hamilton for advice on playing with the mask, with Hamilton reportedly telling him not to take it off during the game.

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Why Paul George’s missed free throws could haunt him

Clippers forward Paul George reacts after missing a free throw in the final seconds of Game 2 on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

PHOENIX — None of it was easy, the Clippers somehow still in a game Tuesday night that felt like it should’ve already been packed and loaded with the Suns holding a 2-0 series lead on their way to Staples Center.

But the Clippers fought. They competed. They defended. They hung around.

Then, they blew it.

Paul George, the Clippers’ star, their future and their present, had two free throws to ensure any late-game drama wouldn’t be fatal if he converted both for a three-point lead. Each attempt clanked off the rim, tempting the basketball gods just enough to deliver one more gut punch to a fanbase and franchise that had finally healed.

Fatigue was undoubtedly a factor. Pressure was, too. The two combined for another postseason heartbreak that was as much self-inflicted as anything else.

“This is a hard game to kind of swallow because you look at this game, I mean, we got this game won,” Patrick Beverley said of the 104-103 loss.

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Explainer: Why was Deandre Ayton’s dunk a legal NBA play?

Suns center Deandre Ayton scores over Clippers center Ivica Zubac to make the winning shot of Game 2.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton scores over Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac to make the winning shot of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
(Associated Press)

When Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton reached over the rim to dunk Jae Crowder’s pass for what became the winning points of the Suns’ 104-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, several players immediately argued that the play was illegal.

Perhaps it was wishful thinking on their part.

Or, perhaps more likely, they did not fully understand the rule.

In almost any other situation, what Ayton did would have been a violation — offensive basket interference — and the shot shouldn’t have counted. But in this situation, what he did was perfectly legal.

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Chris Paul to play in Game 3

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul brings the ball up court.
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul brings the ball up court during Game 4 of a second-round playoff series against Denver.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The Suns announced that Chris Paul will return from the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols to make his Western Conference finals debut tonight.

This is, of course, bad news for the Clippers, who lost the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Phoenix with Paul sidelined and Cameron Payne starting. They struggled to contain Payne in Game 2, as he led the Suns with 29 points on 12-of-24 shooting. Expect Paul to start alongside Devin Booker in the Phoenix backcourt, with Payne moving back to the bench.

In 10 playoff games, Paul is averaging 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds on 50.9% shooting. He also dealt with a shoulder injury in the first round against the Lakers.

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Clippers look for answers as Western Conference finals move to L.A.

 Clippers center DeMarcus Cousins (15) shows his frustration during first half action
Clippers center DeMarcus Cousins shows his frustration during the first half of Game 2 against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

One after another the Clippers walked in a quiet room in a corner of once-roaring Phoenix Suns Arena late Tuesday, sat in front of a video camera’s unblinking eye and replied to questions with answers they’d first said four weeks ago in Los Angeles, then repeated two weeks later in Salt Lake City.

New city, new opponent, but déjà vu had met them in the desert nonetheless: an 0-2 hole to begin their third consecutive best-of-seven series, with Game 3 on Thursday at Staples Center.

They are the only team in NBA history to overcome such a deficit in back-to-back rounds and yet this is not the case, the Clippers insisted, of having the Phoenix Suns right where they want them.

“I don’t think you like to start two games in the hole,” guard Patrick Beverley said. “I don’t think that’s our plan.”

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Q&A: Jeff Van Gundy discusses Clippers-Suns series

Commentators Marc Jackson, left, and Jeff Van Gundy watch the game.
Commentator Jeff Van Gundy, center, watches the game alongside Mark Jackson.
(Bob Levey / Associated Press)

Jeff Van Gundy, the former NBA coach and longtime commentator for ESPN/ABC, had a front row seat for a wild Game 2 on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

After he landed in Los Angeles ahead of calling Thursday’s Game 3, Van Gundy spoke with me about what we both just saw in Phoenix and what we could see next.

Here’s our chat:

DW: How do the Clippers recover from THAT?

DW: Do you think the physical toll on him, more than 40 minutes a night, is too much?

JVG: No. You know, the minutes police are out every, every night. And not everybody’s minutes are the same. So I think they’ve spared him a lot of harder minutes by not guarding Booker a lot. But the stars have a lot of responsibility. And they bear a responsibility, and he’s capable. And I think every time a guy has a bad night, people rush to either A) judgment or B) excuse making. And he’s capable. He’s always played big minutes. He’s in great shape. He’s a tremendous player. And he just hasn’t shot the ball well in these two games and I think Phoenix deserves a lot of credit, too, because, you know, they’re good defensively.

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Why are Lakers fans rooting against Clippers? Why openly hate them?

Clippers guard Rajon Rondo vehemently reminds his teammates to raise their hands on defense.
Clippers guard Rajon Rondo vehemently reminds his teammates to raise their hands on defense before losing to the Phoenix Suns on an alley-oop dunk with less than a second left in Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

One of the strangest phenomena in American sports occurred again Tuesday night, further laying bare the darkest depths of a city’s sports soul.

A professional basketball team located in downtown Los Angeles — with Los Angeles in its name, Los Angeles on its home jerseys and 37 years of Los Angeles history on its résumé — dramatically lost an important playoff game in the final second.

And all over Los Angeles, people celebrated.

The gritty hometown Clippers were stunned by the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, yet roughly 90% of this city’s basketball fans jumped for joy.

“First I laughed,” screenwriter Andrew Ungvari said. “Then I cheered.”

Amy Nicholson, a film critic and co-host of the popular “Unspooled” podcast, was watching the final seconds on her phone when her boyfriend kindly asked her to shield it from him.

“Don’t tell me anything about the game unless the Clippers lose,” director Adam Egypt Mortimer said.

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