Don’t get it twisted — these Los Angeles Clippers could do it again, but would you really want to doubt them this time?
It’s only happened 30 times in NBA history: A team down 0-2 coming back to win a playoff series. These Clippers are the only team to do it twice in the same postseason, and will be looking at the deficit a third time if they lose to the Phoenix Suns tonight.
You can joke that maybe they’ll have the Suns right where they want them, maybe they could do it a third time, since they’d just done it to the No. 1 seed, and perhaps Chris Paul’s COVID-related absence provides even more of a pathway for the continuation of this historic Clippers run. But, down Kawhi Leonard for a still-undetermined amount of time with an ACL sprain, it’s probably best not to find out.
Less than 48 hours after ending the Utah Jazz’s season (despite Leonard’s absence in the final two games of that series, both of which were won by the Clippers), the Clippers lagged behind the Suns for much of Game 1, though they made a run late in what appeared to be an experimental effort, to some degree. DeMarcus Cousins, who had only played in Games 1 and 2 against Utah, logged 13 minutes in Game 1 vs. Phoenix, in which he netted 11 points and four rebounds. Rajon Rondo played 22 minutes, recording eight points and seven assists, as opposed to his previous near-seven-minute effort. Ivica Zubac also saw 18 minutes of play after being limited to just six in the Jazz closeout, adding nine points and three rebounds on Sunday. Tyronn Lue has made quality adjustments all post-season, maybe he was tinkering with the lineup to see what would work against the Suns in the opener, and perhaps he was simultaneously managing the minutes of his starters, all of whom played fewer minutes on Sunday than they did Friday against Utah, except for Reggie Jackson.
Leonard’s known absence settles the Clippers in a way, which is probably why they were so fearless against Utah — along with the exposure of Rudy Gobert again — but these Suns are different. DeAndre Ayton is the rare NBA player who improved despite his numbers dropping. Devin Booker has elevated from perceived and doubted “regular-season” scorer on a bad team to someone people will be putting in their top 10 active list after this run is over. (Probably a knee-jerk reaction, but you know how this goes.) And CP3 is out for at least Game 2, but we at least fully expect him to return.
It would behoove the Clippers not to have to mount a 2-0 come back once more because there may be a world where Paul is cleared at some point in the series, perhaps even Game 3, while Leonard may not. In Game 3, they were tied with Phoenix 93-93 heading into the fourth before only losing by six. The 120-114 loss came despite only three Clippers reaching double figures, led by 34 from Paul George. If they could create a more balanced offensive attack and perhaps limit another 40-point triple-double from Devin Booker, maybe they could deliver the Suns’ first playoff loss since May 27 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Otherwise, we’ll have to do this 2-0 thing again, and being down 2-0 to a team that may gain an MVP candidate while you’re missing yours, is not where you want to find yourself on the second day of summer. As Lil’ Durk once observed, Dis Ain’t What U Want.
And neither is this, by the way, if you’re wearing a Clippers jersey.