PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; tied 1-1.
The Phoenix Suns are heading to Los Angeles after losing home-court advantage by being slowed down significantly in Game 2.
Sounds a lot like their first-round series.
This time, the Suns hope to avoid falling into another big hole, and respond to the Clippers’ adjustments with some of their own as they get the first of two chances to at least come away with a split at Staples Center.
Phoenix couldn’t even manage that in the opening round against the Lakers, falling behind 3-1 in the series as it was held below 100 points in Games 2, 3 and 4. The Suns finally solved the Lakers defense to average 120.3 points over the next three games and won them all, setting up this semifinal series.
Phoenix played at its usual high level offensively in Game 1 in a 130-123 win, but the Clippers hit the boards much harder against the smaller Suns on Wednesday and slowed the pace en route to a 122-97 victory.
“We’ll lay it on the line next game,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It is size obviously, but to negate that and to not get killed, you have to have that second effort, which we had on Monday and didn’t have tonight.”
While Los Angeles failed to use its size advantage enough in Game 1, the difference was apparent Wednesday as Phoenix was outrebounded 57-26. The Clippers dominated the offensive boards 19-5, leading to a 31-6 advantage in second-chance points.
After the Suns scored more points in the paint (48-42) in the series opener, the Clippers had a 58-36 edge in Game 2 as they became the aggressors while putting the clamps on Steve Nash and other Phoenix perimeter players who consistently found paths to the basket in Game 1.
“If the bigs stepped up, we knew we had a shot,” Elton Brand said. “If we could hold them in the perimeter and have them shoot jump shots, then we’d have the advantage of the post and we outrebounded them heavily.”
Brand had 27 points and 10 rebounds after scoring a team-playoff record 40 points in Game 1. Perhaps of equal importance to the Clippers was the contribution from 7-foot center Chris Kaman, who responded with 14 points and 16 rebounds after having eight points and seven boards Monday.
Sam Cassell followed his 28-point performance in Game 1 with 23 on Wednesday, and Cuttino Mobley also scored 23 after being held to three points in the opener. The Clippers are 5-0 this postseason when Mobley scores in double figures, 0-2 when he doesn’t.
The starting backcourt of Cassell and Mobley even had 13 rebounds, the same number as Phoenix’s starting frontcourt.
“We didn’t want to go back to L.A. down two,” Cassell said, “so we just collectively as a group got together and said, we’re going to play harder, we’re going to rebound, we’re going to try not turn over the ball. We’re going to execute our offense, our defensive gameplan, and I think that’s how we had success.”
Phoenix’s Shawn Marion was a non-factor with 13 points, most of which came on dunks as he again struggled from outside, and a team-high six rebounds. Nash was limited to 14 points and eight assists, barely playing in the fourth quarter.
The Suns trailed 65-51 at halftime and got no closer in the second half.
“There was a little fatigue out there,” Marion said. “But even though we were fatigued, we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. We just got killed on the boards.”
While the Clippers did play better defensively, Phoenix also just didn’t have its shooting touch. The Suns were 9-of-26 (34.6 percent) from 3-point range—they hit better than 44 percent in the previous three games—and went 16-of-23 (69.6 percent) at the foul line after entering the game hitting 90.2 percent during the playoffs.
“I thought we were elsewhere much of the game,” Nash said. “We didn’t have a great focus. We need that. We’re smaller than every team we play. We need to scrap, be tough and be focused.”
The Clippers have shot 56.7 percent from the field in this series, but their defense appears to be a bigger factor.
These teams have split six meetings this season. Phoenix has averaged 97.7 points and shot 43.1 percent from the field in three losses, compared to 122.7 points per game and 52.3 percent shooting in three wins.
“We feel good about going home,” Brand said. “They didn’t do what they had to do on their court, now we shift it to our home-court advantage.”
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Suns - Nash, 22.2 ppg and 9.7 apg; Marion, 9.7 rpg. Clippers - Brand, 22.3 ppg and 9.9 rpg; Shaun Livingston, 5.7 apg.