LOS ANGELES — To win a ring, a team has to win ugly sometimes.
The Phoenix Suns can check that box — it’s not going to get uglier than Game 4 Saturday night. Calling this game a rock fight would be an insult to rock fights.
In a game where the Suns shot 36% as a team, were 4-of-20 on 3-pointers, went scoreless for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter, saw their two All-Star guards shoot 14-of-44 combined, and the team had an offensive rating of 90.7, Phoenix gutted out a dramatic win over the Clippers in a defensive struggle (with some cold shooting).
“It was an ugly game from the start if you look at it offensively, but we dug in and got stops,” Devin Booker said. “That’s how you win playoff games.”
Phoenix escapes Los Angeles with an 84-80 Game 4 win, giving the Suns a commanding 3-1 series lead as they head home to Phoenix for Game 5 on Monday.
Teams up 3-1 in a conference finals are 40-3.
Chris Paul with some sorcery on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/NLDH0XFqZs
— NBA (@NBA) June 27, 2021
“Our poise was tested tonight in how we responded to their third quarter when our shots were going in and out and in and out…” Suns coach Monty Williams said, laughing at all the misses. “We competed at the highest level I have seen from us all season.”
Deandre Ayton, who has been the Suns MVP this series, was the guy showing the most poise and anchoring the defense.
Defensively he was a force, with four blocks and far more possessions where he made the Clipper ballhandler think twice about attacking. Offensively, it wasn’t his 19 points, it was the nine offensive rebounds that kept plays alive and kept the Suns in the game (he finished with 22 total rebounds and four blocked shots.
“I was just trying to control the game with my effort on both ends of the floor,” Ayton said.
Now it is the Clippers’ poise that will be tested.
“We played well defensively but didn’t play well offensively,” Reggie Jackson said. “The shots that didn’t fall tonight, we feel will fall in the next game.”
A rainstorm of shots did not fall for the Clippers — they were 0-of-12 in the fourth quarter on shots to tie or take the lead (via ESPN Stats & Info).
The Clippers — playing their 13th game in 25 days, with their best player sidelined, forcing key guys to take on more minutes — looked like a team that lost its legs. They shot 5-of-31 from 3 (16.1%) and a lot of those, particularly early in the game, were clean looks. Paul George shot 5-of-20 overall and 1-of-9 from 3, on his way to a team-high 23 points. Reggie Jackson was 8-of-24 for 20 points. Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum combined to go 1-of-10.
Phoenix opened the game on a 14-2 run, with Chris Paul looking much sharper than two nights before, and running a pick-and-roll with Ayton that was getting clean looks. The Suns also were playing faster, not letting the Clippers settle in on defense.
The Suns led 29-20 after one quarter, then in the second did a good job of tightening up their defense and funneling drives into Ayton, who was a wall. The Clippers tried to shoot over the top of the wall but were 4-of-22 on 3-pointers in the first half, with George and Jackson a combined 6-of-22 overall. Los Angeles doesn’t have a margin for error to cover that, and they trailed by 14 at the half, 50-36.
Los Angeles rallied in the third by forsaking the three and attacking the rim. The Clippers shot 8-of-15 in the paint, plus got fouled and went to the line 11 times (hitting 7). In the third, Los Angeles only took three shots from beyond the arc. It was a three-point game after three.
Then came the ice-cold fourth quarter. The teams combined to start the quarter 2-of-20 shooting, and there was a stretch of more than 3:30 where neither team scored a bucket and the game remained stuck at 71-70. CP3 kept getting to his midrange spots, but like everyone else in this game could not knock them down. Nothing seemed right.
Except for the Suns’ resilience.
Now Phoenix is one win away from its first NBA Finals since 1993. And they don’t care how that final win looks.