LOS ANGELES (AP)—Sam Cassell loves playing in the fourth quarter, and wants the ball when the game is on the line.
After spending only 35 seconds on the court in the final period of Game 3 in the Western Conference semifinals, the 36-year-old point guard knew he’d get an opportunity in Game 4.
He got his shot, all right, and buried the Phoenix Suns.
Cassell made two 3-pointers down the stretch, including the clincher with 27 seconds left, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Suns 114-107 on Sunday night to even the best-of-seven series 2-2.
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Phoenix.
Cassell played only 35 seconds in the final period two nights earlier, when the Suns edged the Clippers 94-91.
Coach Mike Dunleavy has said repeatedly since then that he didn’t second-guess that decision, and Cassell concurred.
“I’m going to be a head coach in this league some day. Coaching is a feel,” Cassell said. “I don’t blame Coach Dunleavy. I knew in Game 4 I was going to be in the fourth quarter a lot. I didn’t even worry about Game 3.”
Cassell began the final period on the bench, but returned with 7:19 to play.
Cassell, who entered the postseason with more playoff experience than the rest of his teammates combined, finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
He scored only six points in Game 3, when he was usually guarded by the taller Shawn Marion. It didn’t seem to matter who defended Cassell in this game, especially in the second half, when he scored 18 points.
Three-pointers by Vladimir Radmanovic and Cassell gave the Clippers what appeared to be a safe 106-93 lead with 5:54 remaining. The Suns then scored 12 straight points to move within one before Elton Brand made an 18-foot jumper with 56 seconds remaining and, after Tim Thomas missed a 3-pointer, Cassell hit his big shot.
“Last year, we would have lost at the end,” said Brand, who had 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. “Sam brings swagger, Sam brought swagger tonight. We need to have it every game.”
The Clippers won without starting center Chris Kaman, sidelined because of a sore right shoulder. Kaman, injured in Game 3, suited up and was available, according to a team spokesman, but never left the bench.
But the Clippers won anyway.
“Sam Cassell hit the big shots down the stretch,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Sam can get off on anybody. Sam’s been around for a long time.”
Phoenix star Steve Nash was held to eight points and 11 assists. He shot 3-of-11, and didn’t make a field goal after halftime.
“They’re double-teaming him most every time,” D’Antoni said. “We’re getting shots. The other guys have got to step up and knock it down. I think he’s doing his job.”
Nash, the two-time league MVP, didn’t agree completely.
“The way they’re playing me, I’m not going to have a prolific scoring series,” he said. “I’ve got to play a little better—I’m not playing very well the last couple of games.”
Raja Bell led the Suns with a career playoff-high 33 points—two more than his regular-season career best. Boris Diaw added 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists; Leonardo Barbosa added 15 points, and Marion had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Barbosa scored the last five points of Phoenix’s late 12-0 run, cutting the Clippers’ lead to 106-105 with 1:12 to go. At that stage, the Clippers’ big two made the two biggest plays of the game.
“Emotionally, it was a big game for us,” Dunleavy said. “We didn’t want to go down 3-1. Now, it’s a three-game series. We have to win one in Phoenix.”
Even without the 7-foot Kaman, the Clippers dominated the backboards, outrebounding the Suns 55-37. Los Angeles outrebounded Phoenix 57-26 in winning Game 2, but just 47-46 in losing Game 3.
The Clippers shot 48.8 percent to the Suns’ 45.5 percent. Phoenix committed only five turnovers to nine for Los Angeles.
Radmanovic started in Kaman’s place, and Maggette replaced Quinton Ross, giving the Clippers additional scoring punch.
The Maggette-for-Ross move paid big dividends in the first half, when Maggette had 16 points and eight rebounds to spark the Clippers to a 61-51 lead.
NBA commissioner David Stern said at an informal news conference before the game that he was pleased for the Clippers and their fans. “Good for them. I think it’s great,” he said. “Thirty years is a long time to wait for the second round.” The Clippers won a playoff series this spring for the first time since 1976. … Counting the playoffs, Kaman has played in 86 games this season, starting 85. … The Suns lost for the first time in the playoffs when scoring at least 100 points. They won their previous five games when scoring 100 or more.