Los Angeles Clippers were very close to a tie against the Phoenix Suns, but couldn't make it happen. Paul George missed two free points with just eight seconds left to tie the Clippers' lead. The Suns took the ball from the Clippers after their game-winning attempt was ruled out of bounds. The Suns made a perfect lob pass for Deandre Ayton with only 0.9 seconds left. He then nailed it home for the win.
The Suns were without Chris Paul once again. Cam Payne led all scorers with 29 points, while Ayton scored 22 points and had 14 rebounds. Devin Booker contributed 20 points. Paul George, on the other hand, led the Clippers with 26 point but had to make 23 attempts to get there. Los Angeles' All-Star was not the most efficient player in the lineup. It wasn't enough to finish the job.
The Clippers are now at 0-2 in the postseason after the loss. The opening tip is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Thursday. ET
Paul George had missed three free throws before he stepped to foul line with 8.2 seconds left and the Clippers within a point. This was a very unusual move for George. George was able to shoot nearly 87 percent from the line during this season. His 11th game was his eleventh. He did not miss his fifth free throw in the regular season. He was only 5-of-10 at line after missing the two crucial freebies in Game 2. Even though he lost by one point, any of those shots could have sent the game into overtime. They would have won the game if they had taken two.
There will be many who point out George's postseason history, and again claim that he's not clutch. Another explanation is that he was tired. George played 41 minutes in Game 2. Since Game 5, George has played over 41 minutes per game. Since then, the Clippers have been playing every day except tonight. This makes tonight's loss their 11th in 21 days. He was clearly tired, as evidenced by his struggles throughout the game. He only shot 10-of-23 from field and has shot nearly 88 percent in the fourth quarters in playoffs so far. George's postseason record doesn't have to be tarnished by his misses.
However, if the Clippers lose the series, which it seems like they will, they will look back at this as the moment it happened. Chris Paul was unable to attend both Phoenix games. After being headhunted and unable to perform, Devin Booker was unable to finish the first half. The Clippers missed a great opportunity to win the series.
Devin Booker was the owner of Game 1. Cameron Payne won Game 2. Booker was a disappointing 5-of-16 from field, missing the second-half minute. Payne won Game 2 with 29 points. He shot 12-of-24. He shot 10-of-16 inside the arc.
Clippers were big for most of the game and used drop coverage against ball screens. This is dangerous because the Suns are so good at mid-range that even if DeMarcus Cousins or Ivica Zubac are falling back to basket, they have a window on their floor where they can get great looks. The guard's original defender is playing catchup on the screen.
Payne was able to do just that. He used a variety bank shots, scoops, and floaters to get the Clippers out of their jam. But he was also more than capable of racing around big men when they weren't. Payne, who was a minimum-salary backup and was in the G League last season, suddenly became a three-level scorer, capable of playing starter-caliber moments with Paul.
This is what Phoenix has created. It's not just about the stars. This roster is completely complementary and includes players who can temporarily take over for a few minutes. Cam Johnson took over when Booker was injured. Cam Johnson made all five of Game 2's shots. E'Twaun Moor gave the Suns backup options. Although Paul is Phoenix's most skilled player, the Suns team is strong enough to compete without him. Both of these Phoenix games were close wins for the Clippers. The Suns had more players that they could trust, and the Clippers lost.
3. 3. Should the Clippers be allowed to go small again?
The Clippers seemed to have abandoned their small-ball lineups and used either DeMarcus Cousins or Ivica Zubac at the center for 38 minutes. This logic was likely rooted in a fear of Deandre Ayton. Ayton was able to shoot 12-of-15 even against the Clippers. He couldn't have done more against them, no matter who was supporting him. The advantages of playing big were negligible. The Clippers also made seven fewer 3-pointers during Game 2, than they did in Game 1, when they played bigger.
This is not an easy calculation. The Clippers will have a difficult time protecting the basket from Phoenix's guards by removing a large man. Their defense against dribble penetration was already weaker with Kawhi Leonard absent. Zubac had 11 rebound. Easy points can be created by having a garbageman close to the basket.
Batum was the postseason's third-best Clipper, but he only played 16 minutes. This has to change. They must do better at allocating their time to the best players, regardless of whether they are going small or large. In Game 2, they used 10 players. In Game 2, they used 10 different players.