The Los Angeles Clippers will look to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole for the third straight series this postseason when they take on the Phoenix Suns this Tuesday evening on ESPN. The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to overcome two 2-0 deficits in the same postseason, but the Suns are rolling with eight straight wins.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 – 09:00 PM EDT at Phoenix Suns Arena
The Suns are a 6-point favorite at many top sportsbooks following Sunday’s 120-114 win in a terrific Game 1. Both teams looked good despite the absences of Kawhi Leonard (right knee) and Chris Paul (COVID-19). Paul will likely return to action before Leonard, but it is quite possible both miss Game 2. None of the four matchups between these teams this season have been decided by more than 10 points, though the Suns have won the last two games in which Leonard was absent.
Game 1: Devin Booker’s Big Day
They say timing is everything. The Suns needed a big game from Devin Booker with Chris Paul out to take down a hot Clippers team coming off four straight wins against Utah. Devin Booker played his 420th NBA game on Sunday, but it was the first time he ever had a triple-double with 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. Booker’s 13 rebounds are a career high, and he only had one game with more than eight assists this season, so this was rather good timing to do it in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The game was a thriller with 20 lead changes, but Booker especially caught fire in the third quarter (18 points) to put the team on his back with the game tied headed into the final frame. Los Angeles is usually a great shooting team, but the offense went cold in the fourth quarter, shooting 34.8% from the field. Paul George and Reggie Jackson were great early, but they combined for five points and shot 0-of-7 from three in the fourth quarter. Terance Mann was a Game 6 hero for the Clippers against Utah with 39 points, but he crashed back to earth with only nine points on four field goal attempts Sunday.
The Suns shot 55.1% from the field, their best game this postseason. Booker received help in the form of a 20-point game from Deandre Ayton, the first time he hit 20 points since Game 1 against Denver. He has started each series very well this postseason. Cameron Payne also shined in Paul’s absence with nine assists.
Without Paul, Phoenix still had great ball movement and security. The Suns had 31 assists to seven turnovers. The Suns had eight more assists than the Clippers and are a perfect 22-0 this season when they have at least eight more assists in a game. Booker and Payne looked comfortable filling Paul’s shoes and running the offense with 20 assists to three turnovers.
None of the starters disappointed for Phoenix while three Los Angeles starters failed to crack 10 points. Marcus Morris (3-of-11 from the field) especially had a rough game with only six points and the Clippers were minus-11 with him on the court.
DeMarcus Cousins provided an early spark for the Clippers with 11 points, but he picked up five fouls in just 13 minutes of play. Rajon Rondo and Luke Kennard both contributed a pair of threes off the bench as the Clippers hit 20 threes for the second game in a row, but it was not enough this time. The Clippers were 4-of-14 (28.6%) from three in the fourth quarter.
Game 2: Changes?
The Clippers have been very streaky this postseason, usually stacking wins or losses with only one instance of alternating them against Dallas. Phoenix has won eight in a row with Sunday’s six-point win the lowest margin of victory in any of them.
The Suns are 8-0 this postseason when Booker shoots at least 42% from the field and 1-2 when he does not. That sounds less impressive when you consider that the Suns were still 10-3 in the regular season when Booker shot under 42%. Phoenix usually shoots so well and the Clippers have yet to hold them under 47% as a team in four meetings.
The good news is Booker will unlikely be 40-point triple-double good again in Game 2. However, he did a lot of damage on mid-range shots, including several against good defense, so there is not much more the Clippers can do there. He is going to get his, especially if Paul is out again.
The bad news is Paul may not be out, and his return could only give the Suns another consistent weapon. Either way, the Suns have enough to beat this team with Leonard still likely out for some time.
The Clippers were shooting lights out the last four games against Utah, but that regressed on Sunday with a 45.5% effort. George has four games this season with at least seven made threes and three of them are against Phoenix. He feels comfortable shooting from deep against this team, but he only finished Game 1 at 10-of-26 (38.5%) from the field. He must be more efficient than that.
The role players such as Mann and Morris have to deliver as well. Morris is a very unpredictable player. He can score four points one game and 23 the next, as he did against Dallas. The Clippers are 7-0 this postseason when Morris shoots at least 42% and 1-6 when he does not.
Role players take on a bigger focus when superstars are missing in a series like this. Dallas has them, but the Suns do as well. The Suns only two losses this postseason came against the Lakers when Mikal Bridges did not score in double digits. The Suns are 19-3 this season when Bridges scores at least 18 points. He is the type of player who could step up in scoring if Booker dips in Game 2.
Phoenix has been the best bet in the NBA this season with a 51-30-2 (63.0%) record ATS. No team covers at home at a higher rate than the Suns (66.7%), and they are 26-11 ATS as a home favorite, only trailing Atlanta. On equal rest, the Suns cover 70.5% of the time while no other team is above 60.5%. The Suns are 9-2 ATS this postseason and have covered eight in a row.
The upcoming loss is practically inevitable, but I would feel a lot more confident in it if the Clippers were getting Leonard back while Paul was still out. That does not look to be the case, so I am going to trust Booker and company for my NBA picks to cover a ninth straight game and drop the Clippers to a familiar spot of down 2-0.
But that would not mean the series is over by any stretch.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.