LOS ANGELES — Finally – though too soon for most of the 18,495 fans who filled Staples Center – a Clippers’ comeback came up short.
After becoming the first team to rally successfully from 2-0 series deficits in one postseason, Tyronn Lue’s team had an opportunity Wednesday to push the second-seeded Phoenix Suns to a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – a series in which, yes, the Clippers again spotted their opponent a 2-0 lead.
Playing their 15th day in 30 days, and their eighth consecutive contest without star Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers’ historic playoff run ended with a 130-103 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
They were victims of Chris Paul’s heroics.
In his fourth game back after missing the first two of the series because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the former Clippers star equaled his career postseason high with 41 points to lift the Suns into their first NBA Finals in 28 years – and the first of his 16 NBA seasons.
The Western Conference’s second seed will face either the Milwaukee Bucks or Atlanta Hawks, who are tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Clippers reached the conference finals for the first time in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Emotions boiled over as the game was getting away, with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley getting ejected after shoving Paul in the back.
Fresh off his season-saving, career-playoff-high 41-point effort two nights earlier, the Clippers’ Paul George was relatively stymied by physical Phoenix defense.
George finished with 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting – and having logged 776 postseason minutes and carried the brunt of the workload with Leonard sidelined with a knee sprain for the past eight games. Leonard was on the bench Wednesday, unable to do more than watch.
Marcus Morris Sr. finished with 26 points, Reggie Jackson had 13, Patrick Beverley 11 and DeMarcus Cousins 12.
It was Paul’s personal 8-0 run late in the third quarter that set the stage and snuffed out the Clippers’ last challenge, which cut the lead to just seven. And then it was his 6-0 spurt to start the fourth that buffered the Suns’ lead to 20 points, 105-85, a deficit from which, for the first time, the 2020-21 Clippers couldn’t recover.
The Suns were, well, hot to start. They shot 55.3% (26-47) in the first half, when they also connected on 10 of their 17 3-point attempts.
Phoenix also had a 15-7 advantage on second-chance points, and not coincidentally, a 66-57 halftime lead.
The Clippers, on the other hand, weren’t especially hot or sharp and had Lue imploring them at halftime to “lock in.”
George went into intermission Wednesday with just six points on 3-for-8 shooting; he came up early on his first three 3-point tries and was minus-13 in the box score in his first 20 minutes.
Still, the Clippers managed to keep contact, never falling behind by more than 10 in the first half. They managed that because of contributions from Morris (13 points), Beverley (all 11 of his points in addition to his typically antagonistic defense), Jackson (11 points) and Cousins (10 points in five minutes).
More to come on this story.
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