Hopping a barrier separating Phoenix’s socially distant bench from the court, the Suns raced toward a flat-on-his-back Devin Booker.
Booker had slid to his resting place near the three-point arc following a complicated series of events that unfolded Tuesday in the final eight seconds of the fourth quarter. A scramble for possession led to a dribble to Booker’s left and a pump-fake to avoid the defense of Kawhi Leonard. Seeing Paul George in wait, Booker spun and pushed himself backward, his fadeaway providing the mere inches of room needed to release his game-winning shot just past George’s outstretched hand, and just before the final buzzer sounded.
As teammates reached Booker, then piled atop him, following Phoenix’s 117-115 victory, the Clippers marched, quickly and quietly in the other direction, toward their locker room.
And when they emerged, they spoke of regret, wishing that things had gone differently.
It was a sentiment that applied not only to the final moments.
“Give Phoenix credit,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought they played so much harder than us throughout the game.”
The Clippers (45-22) fell to 1-2 during the NBA restart and just like a loss five days earlier to the Lakers, this was decided by a razor-slim margin and errors that plagued them long before a doomed final sequence.
Phoenix made 17 of its 32 three-pointers and held George — who’d made eight three-pointers Saturday — to one-for-seven shooting from deep. Yet trailing by as many as 11 points, the Clippers tied the score multiple times in the final minutes behind a strong push led by George, who scored six of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, and Leonard, who had eight of his 27 points in the final frame.
After snuffing out Ricky Rubio’s potential go-ahead shot from 11 feet with 12 seconds left, Clippers center Ivica Zubac collected the defensive rebound and looked to pass upcourt for a teammate in transition, hoping to finish the comeback. But Zubac’s pass was tipped by Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges with eight seconds to play. The ball soon found Booker, and the surprising Suns — 12th in the Western Conference standings — moved to 3-0 in Orlando after Booker drained the last of his 35 points.
“All we can do is just keep using these games as a learning experience, [make] less mistakes next game, give a better effort, more energy,” Leonard said. “That's pretty much it.”
If Booker authored the game’s twist ending, its subplot revolved around a player not even on the floor during the final possession. Clippers guard Lou Williams scored seven points, with six rebounds and six assists in 21 minutes, in his first game after enduring a 10-day quarantine on the resort’s grounds.
He would have rejoined his teammates on the court six days ago but the league extended his quarantine after finding that, while on leave to attend the funeral of a family friend, Williams had visited Magic City, a famed Atlanta strip club.
Williams had pushed back on criticism initially after the news was revealed late last month, with current and former teammates backing him on social media, but called the visit ill-advised.
“I probably could have made a better-quality decision,” Williams said. “I was a little naïve in that aspect. I went somewhere after a viewing of somebody I considered a mentor, somebody I looked up to, first Black man that I’d seen with legal money in my life and the funeral home was a couple blocks away from one of my favorite restaurants. It’s been documented how much I talk about this place, how much I eat there, so I just did something that was routine for me.
“I frequent that place at that time of day, 5:30, 6 o’clock in the afternoon. At the time, I thought I was making the responsible decision. After looking back on it with everything going on in the world and the pandemic, maybe it wasn’t the best-quality decision.”
Williams is one of four Clippers whose stay at Disney World has been delayed or interrupted by the death of either a family member or close friend. Rivers had no update Tuesday for when he expects center Montrezl Harrell to return, after he left July 17 because of an ailing grandmother.
“I was really going through something,” Williams said. “I was thrown under the bus, you know what I'm saying? I was thrown under the bus. All the attention turned to Magic City because it's a gentlemen's club. I feel like if I was at a steakhouse or Hooters or whatever, it wouldn't be half the story.
“… It was difficult to go through that. I pray and I really hope these fans understand what [Harrell] is going through while he's away, so when he come back people don't have a lot to say. Pat [Beverley] went through the thing with his family. I went through my thing. We're having real-life issues in the world.”
Here are three observations from the Clippers’ loss:
Zubac’s final pass marred what was otherwise his best game yet in the bubble after scoring a season-high 18 points to go with 12 rebounds. “As a group, we just had so many mental errors and Zu was included in that,” Rivers said. “So his numbers were great, but he's a better player than he even played today.”
Starting guard Patrick Beverley did not return to the game after leaving in the second quarter because of soreness in his left calf. Rivers said the team would be “very cautious” in handling Beverley’s recovery.
Starting forward Marcus Morris, who has made just 27% of his three-pointers since joining the team by trade in February, produced his most-promising performance of the restart by making six of his eight shots, including three of his four three-pointers, for 16 points.