PHOENIX (AP) Sunday’s opening game of their Western Conference semifinal series saw Kawhi Leonard score 38 points, including two late 3-pointers, as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Phoenix Suns 115-110.
Eric Gordon contributed 19 points and a late 3-pointer to keep the Clippers in the lead. Russell Westbrook was just 3 of 19 from the field, but he made two free throws with 17.7 seconds remaining to give the Clippers a three-point lead. He then blocked Devin Booker’s layup attempt and swiped the ball off Booker to give the Clippers possession with 10.1 seconds remaining.
Kevin Durant tallied 27 points to lead the Suns to their first loss with him on the court. In February, Phoenix acquired the two-time NBA Finals MVP from Brooklyn, but ailments limited him to just eight games, all of which the Suns won.
Tuesday at home, Phoenix will attempt to avoid falling into a 2-0 deficit. Devin Booker added 26 points for the Suns.
With 1:33 remaining, the Suns trailed 109-103 but scored the next five baskets to take the lead. On the subsequent possession, the Clippers secured multiple offensive rebounds before Westbrook made his crucial free throws. Nine points, ten rebounds, eight assists, three blocks, and two steals were his final stats.
Los Angeles led for the majority of the evening until the middle of the third quarter. Torrey Craig scored consecutive baskets, including an explosive fast-break dunk, to give Phoenix a 70-68 lead.
It was part of a 15-0 Suns surge that gave them a 77-68 lead. In the third quarter, driven by Leonard’s 12 points, the Clippers rallied to tie the game at 81 apiece.
Leonard, a two-time Finals Most Valuable Player playing his first playoff game since June 14, 2021, did most of his damage from mid-range, but moved to the 3-point line late in the game. With 2:36 remaining, he made a 3-pointer, and at the 2-minute mark, he hit another. He finished 13 of 24 from the field.
Paul George, an eight-time All-Star, was one of the Clippers’ finest players absent. Last month, he sprained his right knee, and it is unknown if he will be able to perform in this series.
After one quarter, the Clippers led 30-18 thanks to 12 points scored by Gordon. In the first quarter, the Suns shot just 31.8% from the field, and Durant was held scoreless.
Durant missed his first five field goal attempts before converting a floater from mid-range early in the second quarter. This appeared to calm the 34-year-old’s anxieties, as he scored 17 points before halftime to help reduce the Clippers’ lead to 59-54.
George has not played for the Clippers since March 21… In the first half, Ivica Zubac had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Suns: G Cam Payne was unavailable due to a lower back ailment. In the next-to-last game of the regular season, he was injured. In their first home playoff game since losing by 33 points to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals last season.