Clippers throttle Suns in Game 1: Kawhi Leonard shines, Russell Westbrook wins

The Clippers took Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Suns with a 115-110 win over Phoenix on Sunday at the Footprint Center. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Los Angeles star forward Kawhi Leonard led his team with 38 points, five rebounds and five assists while sinking nine of 10 free-throw attempts.
  • Russell Westbrook shot 3-for-19 from the floor, scored nine points, but also recorded eight assists, 10 rebounds, two steals and three blocks. A key defensive play in the final seconds followed by two free throws sealed the win.
  • Kevin Durant paced the Suns with 27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, while Devin Booker scored 26 points.

AthleticInstant Analysis:

Evaluating Westbrook’s exit

Westbrook doesn’t have a good shooting game. In fact, it was his worst shot as a Clipper, making just three of 19 shots from the field, including just one of six 3s. Poor shooting hurt the Clippers during a 25-point Phoenix turnaround that drained a 16-point Clippers lead and put the Suns up nine in the third quarter.

But Westbrook hit every other play in the fourth quarter, especially in the final three minutes of the game as the Clippers clung to a 100-99 lead. At that point, Westbrook had two rebounds, two assists, two clutch free throws and a game-sealing block on a quick Booker drive that gave the Clippers a 3-point lead.

Overall, the Clippers outscored the Suns by three points in Westbrook’s fourth-quarter minutes, a game tied entering the fourth quarter. Notably, Westbrook’s teams are now 2-0 as he shoots exactly 3-of-19 from the field, with the other win coming in the 2021 quarterfinals with the Washington Wizards against the Philadelphia 76ers. Westbrook needs to be better at taking shots, but his impact beyond shotmaking has helped the Clippers steal home-court advantage. — Murray

What else has worked for LA?

The Clippers started Game 1 defensively against the Suns, holding Phoenix to 18 points on 21 shots. Westbrook blocked Durant’s shot as part of an opening quarter effort that kept Durant scoreless in four attempts, while Booker had an efficient opening quarter (six points on 3-of-8 shooting). While Eric Gordon led all scorers with 12 first-quarter points on 5-of-6 shooting, Durant took the job with gusto.

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Leonard increased his scoring in each quarter, totaling 38 points on 13-of-24 shooting. But after Leonard’s increased scoring, Durant and Booker combined to drop 27 second-quarter points, Torrey Craig — taking advantage of the Clippers turning Durant into a passer — scored 11 of his 22 points in the third quarter.

The game was saved by the Clippers bench, with Norman Powell leading the way with 14 points, outscoring the entire Phoenix bench 14-10, while Terrence Mann, Ponce Hyland and Mason Plumlee each added 20 points apiece. Leonard’s 13 fourth-quarter points were enough to surpass Durant’s 10 fourth-quarter points, and even though the Suns had more star power behind Durant, Leonard had more help.

The key stats for the Clippers are second chance points and offensive rebounds. The Clippers used the fact that the Suns won the turnover battle 14-10 and outscored the Suns 12-7 in second-chance points in a 15-6 run. That second-chance point differential matched the final margin of the game. — Murray

What’s wrong with Phoenix?

The Suns trailed by 16. They positioned themselves to win. They couldn’t get defensive rebounds when they needed them. Down 109-108 with a minute left, the Suns forced three missed shots — and failed to grab the rebound each time. That streak ended with two Westbrook free throws that gave the Clippers the cushion they needed to steal Game 1.

Some of it is simple haste. Westbrook shot 3-for-19 from the field but was the most important player on the floor in the fourth quarter. He had five rebounds in the final quarter alone. Phoenix couldn’t match his power. — Haller

The Sun’s depth is a constant source of concern

With 4:42 left in the third quarter, Torrey Craig hit a 3 to give the Suns their biggest lead at 77-68. After a mostly quiet first half, the sold-out crowd at the Footprint Center came alive. Phoenix had the momentum – and the Suns gave it all back.

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Among the concerns after the Durant trade was the lack of depth. Here it is on display. With Phoenix mostly playing reserves, the Clippers outscored the Suns on a 13-4 run the rest of the quarter to deadlock 81-81 entering the fourth. A great opportunity to control the sun has slipped away. Overall, the Los Angeles bench outscored the Phoenix bench 34-10. The Phoenix reserves haven’t scored more than four points, an issue that needs to be addressed ahead of Game 2 on Tuesday. — Haller

What are they saying?

“Humblely speaking, at this point, nobody rebounds better than me,” Westbrook said after the win.

The highlight of the game

Required reading

(Photo: Christian Peterson/Getty Images)

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