NYT > Sports
The Los Angeles Clippers are the first team in NBA history to make up multiple deficits in the 2-0 series in the same postseason. Their players are so impressed with the adjustments their coach Tyronn Lue made to make these comebacks possible and they call him Bill Belichick.
“Yeah, right,” Lue said late Thursday, laughing at the comparisons with Belichick, who coached the New England Patriots on six Super Bowl titles.
Lue knows the Clippers still have seven wins from the first NBA championship in franchise history, but on Thursday they managed to add another entry to their unlikely streak of Game 3 restores – and this time they did it without their best player. While Kawhi Leonard was reduced to spectator status and watched from a suite in the Staples Center nursing a worrying right knee sprain, Los Angeles clinched a 106-92 win over the Phoenix Suns to give the Suns their lead in the Western Finals Conference to be reduced to 2. 1.
While neither of the Clippers got too carried away with a win, given the specter of Leonard’s uncertain availability for the remainder of the series, the performance gave what began with the Clippers’ momentous win in Game 3 in Dallas, and continued with a similar one Escape against the. on Utah Jazz in the next round the feeling of a current trend.
By the first round, Dallas had won their first two games as a street team and opened a 30-11 lead in Game 3 before the Clippers rallied for a win that likely saved their season.
After the Clippers lost their first two games in Phoenix this week while the Suns’ Chris Paul was isolated from his team in the league’s health and safety protocols, Los Angeles needed a similar turning point. When Paul returned Thursday night, the Suns, with Paul in and Leonard out, seemed perfectly prepared to put an end to the joy of Clippers Game 3.
Then Lue intervened as he had on the Dallas series (when he made the 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum his launch center) and then on the Utah series (when he let go of the reserve guard Terance Mann, out with Leonard , and Mann responded with a career high of 39 points in a final win in Game 6).
On Thursday, Lue re-launched the 6-foot-5 man to add some height to rusty Paul, but he also handed over key roles to Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) after pulling both out of the starting XI in Dallas -Line. Manning Paul’s assignment and Beverley’s assignment to blast Devin Booker from the suns helped a tired Paul George stay fresh enough to record 27 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists.
It was an encouraging rebound for George, whose two late-missed free throws in Game 2 in Phoenix opened up the possibility for the Suns to steal a 104-103 win at Deandre Ayton’s dunk in the last second. In Game 3, George’s half-bench shot at Summer in the third quarter refreshed his 9v26 line of fire and pushed the Clippers’ lead to 80-69, which gave them the advantage in the fourth quarter that led to the first defeat by Sun since May 27th.
“I thought we did a great job keeping it going,” said George. “I went on. I know I have to get better.”
That was a safe assumption when Paul returned from his 10 day isolation from the suns. Prior to his sudden exile, Paul, 36, had played the best series of his career in a second-round sweep over the Denver Nuggets – and he had only the second trip to the conference finals in Paul’s 16-year career – and he certainly wanted to do it a notable return to Los Angeles, where he had spent six fruitless seasons with the Clippers before leaving in 2017.
Paul and the Suns still have the opportunity to take their franchise to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993. Leonard’s injury makes this the third straight round in which the Suns, after defending champions Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis) and then the Nuggets (Jamal Murray), have been weakened by the loss of key players.
However, Paul and Booker combined 10 for 40 off the field in Game 3, forcing Booker to wear a plastic face shield after a collision with Beverley in Game 2 left him with a broken nose. The Suns also lost Cameron Payne, who starred in Game 2 (29 points, 9 assists, 0 losses) while replacing Paul when he injured his left ankle in the first half. For the first time in a postseason marked by serious injury issues at both conferences, Phoenix looked a little mixed up ahead of Saturday’s fourth game.
Booker insisted that his nose was “okay, honest” after doctors found it broken in three places, and rejected suggestions that the mask had affected his shooting. I checked with one of Booker’s former Suns teammates, Jamal Crawford, after Crawford went on Twitter during Booker’s 5v21 gunfights to describe his own experience with a face shield as “the best defense” he had had ever seen.
“The mask challenge is real,” said Crawford. “At first you can only see straight ahead, nothing on the sides. And even when taking photos, your perception of depth is not quite right. A long shot can be short and vice versa. It’s hard to get into a rhythm. “
Crawford recalled taking off the mask after a quarter and taking the risk with an exposed nose because “the frustration with wearing it was too great”. Unsurprisingly, the Suns coach Monty Williams urged his players not to blame the defeat on anything other than what he called what he called the “desperation” of the Clippers.
To hear Lue’s players tell it came from him as much as from desperation. Whether the Clippers win Game 4 and give their third comeback attempt in a row after falling 2-0 down, most likely depends on how well Paul and Booker can recover from their shaky reunion. But the Clippers said they believed Lue would have a plan for it.
“I think it’s special, just the relationship I have with T-Lue and the relationship T-Lue has with everyone on this team in general,” said George. He attributed a late night phone call to Lue shortly after the team landed in Los Angeles after the painful Game 2 loss to help him recover.
But does that make him the next Belichick?
“I’m not near him,” said Lue.
Was he brave enough to believe that the Clippers could return to 2-2 without Leonard after 0-6 in Game 1 and Game 2?
“I don’t like it, I’ll tell you,” Lue said of his team’s habit of digging early holes. “But we were a resilient team all season.”