By all accounts, this should have been a Russell ‘Westbrick’ game that ended up with a loss for the Clippers. Even though the LA Clippers started off strong and outscored the Phoenix Suns 30-18 in the first quarter, the home team then outscored them 63-51 over the following two quarters to force an 81-81 tie heading into the final stanza.
The second half saw Westbrook miss nine shots on the way to a 3 of 19 performance from the field overall, but when things mattered most, the former MVP made up for all of his misses by winning the game for them anyway.
Westbrook started the game-winning sequence by drawing a foul with 17.1 seconds left and sinking just his second and third free throw attempts of the night. Then, after Clippers forced the Suns to burn an extra timeout to prevent a five-second violation, Westbrook took it upon himself to guard Devin Booker one on one. With absolutely no fear, Westbrook blocked Booker’s layup attempt and then had the presence of mind to throw the airborne ball at Booker’s leg to win possession with 10.5 seconds left on the clock.
That then led to the Clippers fouling Eric Gordon for two free throws that effectively put the game away. Both teams followed up with a bucket each after Gordon sank the pair, but the game was most definitely decided by the sequence involving Westbrook.
The Clippers have now stolen homecourt advantage, which is huge for a series that will likely see Paul George sit for its duration.
Westbrook finished the game with nine points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block along with just two turnovers. His performance was just enough to help out Kawhi Leonard, who had a dominant 38 points, five rebounds and five assists alone with a steal and a block. Leonard, who played 42 minutes and shot 13 of 24 from the field, along with 9 of 10 from the charity stripe, will breathe a sigh of relief that his efforts weren’t wasted.
Leonard was in his bag throughout the game, making difficult shots when they mattered most, including a pair of three-pointers that gave the Clippers a crucial 106-101 lead with two minutes remaining in the game.
The Suns will be looking for answers now, as their starters had to play heavy minutes but still came up short. Kevin Durant played for 45 minutes and finished with 27 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists, a steal and a block. Devin Booker played 43 minutes and had the defensive performance of his career with 26 points, three assists, four steals, three blocks, and he was even taking charges late in the game. Chris Paul also ended up playing 39 minutes to finish with seven points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals.
This was not the start that the Suns wanted, but the Clippers aren’t going to complain. Now we’ve got to see how Phoenix can adjust for Game 2, as their lack of depth was exposed in this meeting. If Phoenix can’t get more out of their bench, who combined for eight points the entire game, this series could get out of hand for them very quickly.