Clippers make a bloody mess of Game 2 in last-second loss to Suns

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
CORRECTS TO SECOND HALF INSTEAD OF FIRST HALF - Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, right, scores over Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Suns center Deandre Ayton dunks an alley-oop pass on an inbounds play with less than a second left for the winning points of Game 2. (Matt York / Associated Press)

Blood ran down the nose of Devin Booker. More pooled in the fabric of Patrick Beverley’s jersey.

The guards’ head-to-head collision opened not only wounds but also opportunity for the Clippers, who badly needed one trailing by seven with 15 minutes remaining in Tuesday’s second game of these Western Conference finals. And they received it as the Suns’ best scorer left the court for medical treatment in his locker room, his return unclear.

Three minutes later Booker emerged with two stitches, stuffing in his right nostril and a standing ovation. And when Beverley returned too, with a headband covering the spot on his forehead he’d covered in gauze, the two resumed the one-on-one confrontation that defined so much of this 104-103 Suns victory to claim a 2-0 series lead.

In his first start since Game 2 of the first round, Beverley pestered Booker over screens and through the paint during their 28 overlapping minutes, which the Clippers won by one point. It turned what Phoenix had hoped to be an encore to his series-opening, triple-double masterpiece into a war of attrition.

It was Beverley who threw back his head with 66 seconds remaining, selling an offensive foul on Booker to give the Clippers the ball and a chance to tie while trailing 100-97, a possession they used to trim their deficit to just one.

After Paul George and Booker traded baskets and the lead on three consecutive possessions, it was again Beverley poking Booker’s dribble out of bounds in front of Phoenix’s bench and frantically calling for a video review — a call overturned to become Clippers’ ball with them leading by one, just nine seconds away from evening the series.

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley steals the ball from Suns guard Devin Booker during Game 2.
Clippers guard Patrick Beverley steals the ball from Suns guard Devin Booker during Game 2. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

But George missed two free throws with 7.8 seconds left. The All-Star, nearly unflappable since Kawhi Leonard’s injury four games ago, shook his head throughout the ensuing timeout.

Given the ball back with nine-tenths of a second left after a missed three-pointer by Mikal Bridges, Suns coach Monty Williams drew up a lob at the rim.

“I was praying,” he said.

Jae Crowder lofted a pinpoint pass not to Booker, shadowed by Beverley, but to center Deandre Ayton, who skied above the rim to flush a dunk over 7-foot Ivica Zubac and launch 16,645 out of their seats, creating a wall of sound not heard in this building since 2010, the Suns’ last conference finals appearance.

A lengthy video review confirmed the basket, because an offensive player can touch the ball in the cylinder during an out-of-bounds throw-in, per league rules, and seven-tenths of a second were put on the clock.

Nicolas Batum heaved a pass beyond midcourt to George, who did not turn to shoot in time before the final buzzer, ending a chaotic, unforgettable game — whose review- and foul-filled final two minutes of play lasted more than 32 minutes — with the Suns putting the Clippers in a 2-0 hole for the third consecutive round.

“I played in a lot of games in the league and this one goes up there,” Beverley said. “This is a hard one to swallow because you look at this game, we got this game won, you know? But we’ve been in the trenches before. We respond well in the trenches.”

Said George: “Pat told no lies, this one hurt.”

Phoenix left not unscathed but still unbeaten in its last nine games.

Ayton finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and the final exclamation mark. But it was the career-high 29 points by Cameron Payne, who has filled Chris Paul’s starting role while the All-Star remains in the NBA’s COVID protocols, and the Clippers’ stagnant early offense that Lue rued most.

“We let one get away,” he said.

Booker scored 20 points but made only five of 16 shots and committed seven turnovers, with Beverley playing “unbelievable” defense, Lue felt. Booker said Phoenix’s doctors told him his nose “wasn’t broken, just a little crooked.”

“Pat did a great job trying to disrupt him early, kept him bottled up for most the night,” said guard Reggie Jackson, who scored 19 points. “I like that matchup. Great player and you got a great defender, a dog who’s ready to go out there and compete.”

George scored 26 points but on 23 shots, missing his first five. After making 89.2% of his free throws this postseaon, he missed five of 10. He had missed both on a trip to the line only once this season, according to Elias Sports.

“Pat made an unbelievable play that put me in position to extend the lead,” George said. “I’m always confident at the free-throw line. I’ve always been very successful in clutch moments at the free-throw line. Tonight I was just unsuccessful in extending the lead.”

Opportunities to be rattled surfaced early. Forward Marcus Morris missed six of his first seven shots and finished with seven points while playing on a sore left knee. Batum played only 16 minutes because of a mixture of fatigue and the matchup, Lue said. After George chased his lost dribble to the floor midway through the first quarter, Crowder placed his feet on either side of George’s waist and glared at him from above. It earned Crowder and Morris technical fouls, after Morris ran in with a protective shove.

It was a return to the antagonism that followed these teams throughout the season. Neither George nor Booker, on opposite side of a heated argument in January, dapped knuckles before tipoff.

But even as the Clippers struggled to score before halftime, making five of 15 threes — they finished 13 for 34 — the Suns were little better, shooting just 23% from deep. Hampered by two early fouls and unable to pick apart the Clippers’ “drop” pick-and-roll coverage as he had in Game1, Booker scored only nine points, committed five turnovers and the Suns led by only one at halftime.

When Booker touched the ball, Beverley often was only inches away. Their collision brought them, and eventually their teams, even closer in a game in which separation did not arrive until the final second.

“We understand that we’ve been in this position before,” Lue said, “even though we hate it.”

Clippers-Suns finals schedule
Clippers-Suns finals schedule (Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.