Paul George scored 41 points, Reggie Jackson added 23 and the resilient Los Angeles Clippers staved off elimination by beating the Phoenix Suns 116-102 on Monday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
The short-handed Clippers were playing without two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and center Ivica Zubac, who missed his first game of the season with an MCL sprain in his right knee. They’ve already fought through two grueling series wins in these playoffs, coming back from 2-0 deficits to beat both the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz.
“The group of guys we’ve got, I love those guys. They compete every single night no matter who is on the floor,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “The work’s not done, but we came into a hostile environment and got a gritty win. We’ve got to do it again two more times.”
Now they’re trying to claw back against the Suns. Game 5 was a good start. George was fantastic after a tough shooting night in Game 4, pouring in 20 points in the third quarter. He finished 15 of 20 from the field, including three of six from three-point range and added 13 rebounds and six assists. Marcus Morris Sr was good, too. The veteran forward, who played for Phoenix earlier in his career, added 22 points on nine-of-16 shooting.
The Clippers played inspired basketball in the first half, jumping out to an 20-5 lead by halfway through the first quarter. Jackson threw down a huge one-handed jam during the run and LA hit nine of their first 11 shots.
“It is just unacceptable the way we started the game,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It was a big hole for us. It is pretty obvious that we can’t play with the show-up mentality. We showed up in the first quarter and they played with desperation.”
The series moves back to LA with the Suns holding a 3-2 advantage. Game 6 is on Wednesday. The Suns are trying to make their first NBA Finals since 1993. The Clippers have never been this far in the postseason.