The Phoenix Suns are one win away from the NBA Finals and made just enough plays to escape Los Angeles victorious in a back-and-forth slugfest.
Devin Booker had 25 points, Deandre Ayton added 19 points and a career playoff-high 22 rebounds and the Phoenix Suns edged the Los Angeles Clippers 84-80 on Saturday night at Staples Center in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to take a 3-1 series lead.
Chris Paul had 18 points and seven assists and was the third Phoenix player to finish in double figures.
Booker picked up his sixth foul and fouled out with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter after Patrick Beverly forced a charge that was overturned in the Clippers favor.
“It was a lot. It was emotional, it was loud,” Paul said referring to the final minute of the game. “Book fouled out; I didn’t even realize it. Just how our team has been all year long. Showing that grit and fight and staying together.”
“That was a slugfest,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It wasn’t Offense 101, for sure.”
The Clippers missed 12 straight shots that could have tied or taken the lead in the fourth and nearly overcame a 16-point deficit.
“I mean, it happens,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said. “I’m really proud of the way our guys competed and fought all night.”
Paul George had 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, Reggie Jackson added 20. Ivica Zubac had 13 and 14 while Terance Mann finished with 12.
George made just 3 of 11 shots in the first half and finished only 8 for 24 on the night.
“We just couldn’t get the ball to go down for the whole stretch, and really for the whole night,” George said.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard missed his sixth straight game with a right knee sprain and his big shot making ability and leadership was sorely missed.
“If he’s not 100, we just don’t want him out there… His health long term is more important,” George added.
The Suns started the game with a 14-2 lead and shot 50 percent from the floor in the first quarter while the Clippers shot 28. Phoenix led 29-20 to end the period.
Los Angeles was held to 29 percent shooting in the first half and had seven turnovers while trailing by 14 at halftime, 50-36.
The Clippers 36 points in the first half, tied for their fewest points in the first half of a playoff game in franchise history.
“That team over there, they fight, they fight man,” Paul said on the Clippers effort. “They’re so well coached. They compete.”
Booker started the second half without his clear plastic mask that he had wearing after suffering a broken nose in Game 2 during his head-to-head collision with Beverly.
“You don’t realize how much you get hit in the face until after you take it off,” Booker said, adding that it takes some time to adjust it.
Paul opened the third and scored seven consecutive points to give the Suns a 59-46 advantage midway through the period.
However, Clippers outscored the Suns 20-10 to end the quarter and trailed 69-66 to start the fourth. Los Angeles outscored Phoenix 30-19 in the third period.
Both teams combined to make only seven field goals in the fourth and each attempt seemed to be harder than the last.
Booker made a jumper to give the Suns a 71-66 lead to start the fourth, but George responded with a 4-0 run to make it 71-70.
Paul then found Ayton on a huge alley-oop dunk after no points were scored for nearly four minutes to go back up three, 73-70 with 6:23 left.
Booker made two foul shots to give Phoenix a 79-74 lead with 2:16 remaining before fouling out minutes later on an overturned charge call.
Mann then made a lay-up to get within three, 79-76 with 59 seconds left but Los Angeles had no more runs in them after that.
The Suns played the fouling game and did not allow the Clippers a chance to tie the game with a three-point attempt.
Paul made 5 of 6 free throws late for the Suns and the Clippers were 4 of 8, missing some shots intentionally to get a second chance score but had no success, falling 84-80.
“It was tough. Because we fought all the way back to make it a one-point game,” Mann said. Those were the looks we’ve made all season.”
Game 5 is scheduled for Monday night at Phoenix Suns Arena with a 6:00 PM tip-off.
The Suns will look to advance to the NBA finals for the first time since 1993, while the Clippers look to keep their playoff hopes alive with a win that would force a Game 6 on Wednesday night.
“We’ve been down before…I think this team’s ready. I think this team’s confident,” said Jackson.
“It’s going to be hard; it’s going to be tough, but it’s gotta be one game at a time. It’s win or go home… Our mindset has to be to do whatever and play as hard as we can,” George said.