“How are they still in this game?” That was the question that I had echoing between my ears for the duration of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
After, a Devin Booker showcase in Game 1 in a Phoenix Suns victory, where he allotted a 40-point triple-double. Game 2 felt like two elite prizefighters going to battle in a number one contender fight. As a viewer, you knew their reputation, how skilled they were, but part of you felt like they were less of themselves.
During the fight, you wondered where one fighter set of combinations was and why the other failed to use his best technique. Regardless, both fighters delivered a stellar fight. As assumed before, in the post-fight interview, you hear the fighter’s confessions, one had a broken rib, and the other had a broken hand.
Without Chris Paul for Game 2 due to COVID-19 protocol’s, the Suns were again expected to rely heavily on Booker for their offense. Though, Coach Williams and the Suns were not lacking trust. They remained committed to their typical balanced attack, conducted by their point guard, Cameron Payne.
In the first half, the Payne and Deandre Ayton pick-and-roll were near indefensible. The “Payne n’ Ayton” show on Tuesday nights on TNT. Found itself dominating ESPN. Payne’s quickness and automatic decision-making helped him be the leading scorer of the game with 29. Ayton, per usual, acted as an ace of supplementation; offensive rebounding and put-backs, alley-oops, and ten-to-twelve-foot jump shots. These two gave the impression that the Suns were controlling the game.
Then, the timely shots from the Clippers. The Suns could not put them away without their sustainability maestro, Chris Paul. Though the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, their best player, the individual play of the Clippers kept them close. Whenever the game was on the verge of being over, Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, or Luke Kennard kept them close with a single haymaker. By the end of the first half, the Clippers were down just one, though they seemed to be in catch up the entire twenty-four minutes.
In the second half, it was the same theme. The Suns grew their lead to near double digits in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Clippers began their comeback. Could they steal this game? Hard to believe, especially when you see the styles of play from the two teams. The Suns with their 5-on-5 offense versus the Clippers with their seemingly taking turns going 1-on-1. But you began to think they might land that single blow and win.
Then, the final thirty seconds that took forty-five minutes arrived. What ensued was the most exciting and frustrating sequence of basketball that I could remember. It was as if in the heat of the fight in the last minute, when both fighters are in full assault, exchanging blows, the ref calls a headbutt, resumes the fight, then a groin shot, resume again, brings in the cut man. “Let them fight!” Then, when the refs finally, “Get to it.” EXACTLY! The protracted back-and-forth diminished its magic, but still, it was magic.
Paul George lay-up to put the Clippers up 101-100, Booker mid-range jumper to regain the lead for the Suns, and George jumper to regain the 1-point lead for the Clippers. They might do it! Then, Ayton receives an alley-up from Jae Crowder with 0.8 seconds left in the game and slams in the game-winner, 104-103. Now the Suns are up 2-0 in the series.
Besides the official meddling, it was a great contest. The Clippers are obviously in trouble, without Leonard and a possible return of Chris Paul for game 3 makes a sweep likely. If Paul continues failing PCR tests and misses time, the Clippers might win their home games in games 3 and 4.
If Leonard can return, that changes everything for the Clippers, whether Paul returns or not. But, like most series these playoffs, injuries are a factor. The NBA is to blame. What else do you expect but a hobbled staff if you cram seasons atop one another? In the meantime, these 3/4ths teams will continue to put on a good show in Game 3 on Thursday night.