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Kawhi Leonard did not play in Game Three and is questionable for Game Four
The Clippers won Game One and then lost two straight
Devin Booker scored 45 points in Game Three
The Los Angeles Clippers look to tie their series against the Phoenix Suns up at two games apiece when they meet in LA Saturday afternoon.
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Game Three was marred by the absence of Kawhi Leonard, announced a few hours before the opening tip. Leonard, who is dealing with a knee sprain, has been an ever-present force in the series and arguably the best player in the world in 2023, and his absence was sure to impair the Clippers on both sides of the basketball.
While LA did miss their star man, they scored their most points of the series (124) behind an eruption from the league’s leading bench scorer, Norman Powell, and another uncharacteristically efficient outing by Russell Westbrook. They kept the game much closer than many thought they would down their two best players (Paul George included) but ultimately fell 129-124.
Devin Booker starred for the Suns again as he continues to prove why he is so lethal as the second option in his offense. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue now has serious questions to ask of himself and his roster heading into an important Game Four since he has not been able to conjure a way to consistently slow down Phoenix’s star-studded offense.
Booker led the game with 45 points on 18-29 field goal shooting. Kevin Durant had his customary 28 points to go with six rebounds and five assists, and the Suns’ three other starters all hit double-digits in points. Booker (45), Durant (42), and Chris Paul (41) all played heavy minutes once again, while the bench saw another light workload and only contributed 18 points on 4-12 shooting.
Powell topped the Clippers with a series-high 42 points (15-23 FG, 7-12 3PT), and Westbrook had 30 points (11-23 FG), 12 assists, and eight rebounds. Midseason acquisition Bones Hyland also had 20 points off the bench but could not provide enough of a spark to steal the second upset of the series.
What’s disappointing from the Clippers’ perspective is they shot 54.2% from the field and 42.9% from three, yet they could not elevate beyond the Suns. Phoenix attempted 46 free throws (tied for the fourth-most in a game this season), which went a long way toward them emerging victorious.
This series has shown that no matter which team wins, both are going to be competitive in every game. There’s a tension hanging over every game that feels like playoff basketball and has caused numerous players to make potential series-defining plays.
LA spent less time doubling Durant and leaving Booker open on the closeout than they did in Game Three but still allowed him to get cooking early. Already undermanned without George and even more so without Leonard, there wasn’t much that LA could do from a personnel standpoint, and coach Lue even rolled the dice on Marcus Morris Sr. and Robert Covington.
It might be that the Clippers are just a little too beat up to take down the Suns in this series, but they have given it their best go. And if they are to be eliminated, they have taken a significant chunk of flesh off the Suns by forcing their star players into playing heavy minutes with up to three rounds still to go in the playoffs.
The Suns will win Game Four and seize a 3-1 advantage heading back to the desert if they can continue to share the ball and keep LA’s defense off balance. Phoenix can do so much on offense, whether it be playing from isolation, pushing the ball in transition, manipulating the pick-and-roll, or a number of other actions to find their hot hand.
There has to be serious concern looking ahead because of their lack of bench productivity and because Torrey Craig, the only non-star in the starting lineup, cannot continue to shoot 62.5% from three as he has thus far.
The Clippers will win this game if they can get another efficient showing from Westbrook, solid contributions from the bench, and tighter defense. The defensive part is the key to it all, because LA (nor really any team in the league) will never be able to consistently outscore the Suns.
LA needs to have much more of a team-first approach. Lue has pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the past and is one of the smartest coaches in the league, but he will really be up against it if he cannot include Leonard in his upcoming game plan.
Sorry to the Clippers, but the pick is for the Suns to cover the spread. That being said, wait until tip-off gets closer to find out if Leonard is playing because this pick is under the assumption that he is not.
The Suns have been given all they can handle but are just a little better and a little healthier. The Clippers would do the Denver Nuggets or Minnesota Timberwolves a huge favor if they can take at least another game and force Phoenix’s stars to log another heavy-minute game.
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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