The Clippers have faced adversity in each of the first two rounds during this year’s playoffs, and the Western Conference Finals seem to be shaping up no differently.
The Clippers rallied from down 0-2 to Luka Doncic and the Mavericks to win Game Seven, thanks to a well-rounded team effort in round one. In round two, they once again started out down 0-2 to the one-seed Jazz, only to win the next four games in a row, weathering the loss of star Kawhi Leonard to take the final two games in convincing fashion. In doing so, the Clippers became the only team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in multiple series during a single playoff run.
Much of the team’s recent success has been due to Paul George‘s stellar two-way play. The All Star wing has averaged 31.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, and shot 43.6% from three over his last six games, while providing lock-down, versatile defense. George previously spoke of the feeling of getting “the monkey off the Clippers’ back” in regard to making it past the second round, and it seems that he’s feeling some of that same looseness personally.
Now, once again, the Clippers find themselves down heading into Game Two. Despite another strong game from George, in which he scored 34 points and defended Suns‘ star Devin Booker well all night, it wasn’t enough, as Booker managed to overcome the defense en route to a 40-point triple-double and a six-point victory. Booker became the third-youngest player to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Doncic and Oscar Robertson accomplished the feat earlier – and the first Sun to do so since Charles Barkley in 1993.
The Suns are as hot as they’ve ever been. They haven’t lost a game since the third game of the playoffs, and Booker proved his ability to put the team on his back and be a play-maker in the absence of Chris Paul, at least for one game. The question will be if he can sustain that level of play should Paul’s absence continue.
Even if Booker drops off, though, the Suns have generally had a wide range of players they’ve been able to rely on. Third-year center Deandre Ayton has had a breakout playoffs, and has been a consistent source of two-way production. Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Torrey Craig have all provided scoring and shooting while forming a tight-knit defensive wing rotation, and Cameron Payne has been solid in his role, stepping up to score 11 points and dish out nine assists as he filled in for Paul.
On the other hand, the Clippers’ role players have been a little more sporadic in their contributions. Reggie Jackson has been a consistent source of offense, and Terance Mann has had moments of excellence, but if the Clippers want any hope at making it to the Finals, they’re going to need more from guys like Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum, and Patrick Beverley, among others.
This is especially true because, while both players are still on unspecified timetables, it seems likely that Paul could be cleared for a return before Leonard.
All of that makes Game Two a crucial one for the Clippers, who want to avoid a third straight series down 2-0. If the Clippers can split the two road games, and get one while Paul is still out, it bodes well for their chances in the series. If not, they will still have a shot, but it certainly makes things tougher — especially if CP3 does return for the later games.
So the question of the day is: Who will win Game Two between the Clippers and Suns, and who will win the individual duel between George and Booker?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!