By Greg Frank
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#2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers
Phoenix leads series 3-2 (Game 6: Wednesday at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN)
Analysis: It’s never easy, but here are the L.A. Clippers again in another elimination game, this time attempting to force a Game 7 in the desert on Friday night in the Western Conference Finals. Head Coach Tyronn Lue deserves a lot of credit. Monday’s Game 5 win on the road was the Clippers’ third win this postseason when facing elimination and Lue is now 10-2 in elimination games and he doesn’t have LeBron James this time around. In the conference semifinals against Utah, the Clippers became the first team in league history to rally from an 0-2 playoff series deficit twice in the same postseason to advance. If Monday was any indication, the Clippers are not going quietly in the conference finals either. Despite a gut-wrenching home loss in Game 4, Los Angeles returned to Phoenix for Game 5 with confidence, got out to a quick start and never really fully opened the door for a Suns rally, on their way to a 116-102 victory.
While the Suns are still the team holding a lead in this series, make no mistake, the pressure is squarely on the higher seed and odds-on title favorites (-155 at DraftKings) to wrap this series up after losing by double digits at home in a close-out game. We mentioned the path for the Clippers in getting to this point, and they’re clearly comfortable playing from behind in the series. But what about the Suns? Well, eliminating the Lakers with a hobbled Anthony Davis didn’t look too difficult and the Lakers went away as the series went on, losing Games 5 and 6 by a combined 43 points. The Nuggets were the next opponent for Phoenix and Denver was never going to make a deep run without Jamal Murray in these playoffs and winning one round felt like an accomplishment for the Denver Nuggets. The Phoenix Suns sweeping them was still impressive, but they were never tested. Now the Suns are seeing some real adversity in the playoffs and remember while there are veterans like Chris Paul and Jae Crowder on their roster, it’s also the first rodeo in the postseason for players like Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikail Bridges.
With no return in sight for Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, it might be easy to look at the rosters of these two teams and figure there’s no way the Suns, the team with superior top-end talent, could blow a 3-1 series lead. That argument becomes harder to make when Paul George is the best player on the court, as he was in Game 5, and we know we can count on the Clippers role players to contribute. We might not be sure who it is each night, but Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, Terrance Mann, Nicolas Batum and DeMarcus Cousins (and even Ivica Zubac) have all had their moments for the Clips. One of the prevailing storylines from these NBA Playoffs has been the amount of injuries we’ve seen to superstar talents across the league. Given that, doesn’t it seem fitting that the organization that best currently embodies the team being greater than the sum of its parts continues to win? On the other hand, I don’t think anyone would be shocked if the clock did eventually strike midnight for Los Angeles. However, as far as Wednesday night goes, the Clippers have too much pride for their season to end on their home floor.
Best Value Bet: Clippers ML -110