It was there for the taking. The Clippers, without Kawhi Leonard, were a pair of Paul George free throws away from just about sealing the deal and evening up the Western Conference Finals series 1-1.
Clinging to a one-point lead with 8.2 seconds to play, Paul George–a dude who shot 87% from the line this year and who shoots 84.7% for his career–missed two free throws that would have put the Clippers ahead by three. Now of course the Suns would have had 8.2 seconds to hit a three, but consider that the Suns as a team were just 6-26 from three in that game. Plus, the Clippers would have been able to just foul and send the Suns to the line for two free throws. You don’t even have to let them attempt a three in that situation.
Paul George choked. There’s really no other way to put it or sugarcoat it. It’s unfortunate because he’s been great during these playoffs since Kawhi went down, and to a lot of people out there on the internet, missing those two free throws basically undoes everything good he’s done over the past four games.
But in the end, those free throws probably would have won the game for the Clippers. There would definitely have been no “Valley-Oop” play if the Clippers were up three. And as I said earlier, they probably could have just fouled the Suns and let them shoot two free throws instead of allowing them to try a game-tying three.
The Clippers had to have that game because the Suns were still missing Chris Paul. Paul is expected to be back for game three, so Phoenix was never more beatable than they were in games 1 & 2 when Paul was out.
But now he’s coming back and the Clippers are down 0-2.
I know the Clippers have been down 0-2 in their prior two playoff series, but this Suns team is different. The Mavericks were a one-man show with Luka Doncic, and the Jazz were dealing with injuries to both Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley.
Being down 0-2 to Phoenix is not ideal. I have a hard time seeing them choke this one away, especially with Chris Paul coming back. Chris Paul is not going to allow another Western Conference Finals to slip through his fingers.
And it does not look like Kawhi will be back for game three, meaning if the Suns win that game and go up 3-0 in the series, it’s a wrap. I don’t think Kawhi will be back at all in the playoffs, honestly. Brian Windhorst said he has a partially-torn ACL, and I just can’t see a situation where he’d want to risk playing and have that turn into a full ACL tear. That would knock him out for at least 7-8 months, probably closer to 9-10.
The Clippers will now have to win 4 of 5 here, and that just isn’t going to happen against this Phoenix team. They’re too good.
As for the game-winning play itself, the Valley-Oop was really a brilliant–and ballsy–play call by Monty Williams. The Clippers were keying on Devin Booker, expecting him to take the last shot. But Williams had Devin Booker set the screen that knocked Ivica Zubac off kilter for just a split second and allowed DeAndre Ayton to get free for long enough to catch the pass and throw it down. It was perfect timing and accuracy on the pass by Jae Crowder to see the moment Booker bumped Zubac. And it was a great job by Ayton, obviously, to out-jump Zubac (who actually was able to recover pretty well given the circumstances) and throw the ball down.
It really was one of the most incredible plays and moments in NBA playoff history. This one will be remembered for a long time to come. It’s right up there with all the great shots and game-winners we all know
There were 0.9 seconds left on the clock. You’re either looking for a quick catch-and-shoot, or an alley-oop. There’s really not a whole lot of options for you with 0.9 seconds left in the game.
My friends and I were watching the game, and we were all saying Phoenix should do the inbounds pass alley-oop. But we didn’t actually expect them to try it. It’s such a hard play to pull off even in the middle of a game. You just don’t often catch the other team snoozing for a free bucket like that.
And last night it was in a situation where the Clippers were expecting it. They knew it could happen, and yet Phoenix was still able to execute and get it to go.
It’s a signature, iconic moment for this Suns team, and if they win the Championship this year it could go down as the greatest moment in franchise history.
The Suns have now 9 games in a row in this post-season. They’re looking incredible right now. Cameron Payne had 29 points and 9 assists filling in for CP3 last night on 50% shooting. Ayton had 24 and 14 on 12-15 shooting. And Booker, who got his nose broken in the game and had to briefly leave, had 20 points, but on 5-16 shooting.
Phoenix won that game despite shooting 23% from three. They just find ways to win. Guys step up. They have lots of ways to beat you. They really are a great team. They’re deep and they have incredible chemistry. With each win, I’m really starting to believe they’re the team of destiny and are going to win the whole thing.