Phoenix Suns: 25 observations from a rough night in L.A.

Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns have been playing with house money since LeBron James’ “big” shoulders failed to rescue the Lakers.

It would be understandable if they felt a little too confident entering Thursday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals in L.A. against the Clippers, believing that, with the home-court advantage they could afford a split on the road.

The Phoenix Suns shouldn’t mess with the Los Angeles Clippers’ ability to rally from two games down, so how did things go off the rails on Thursday night?

We wanted to chronicle the Suns’ Game 3 mental test in real time, offering five observations and opinions about the game’s four quarters plus postgame.

Here’s our knee-jerk 5-on-5 report.

Phoenix Suns first quarter

  • Mikal Bridges picks up two quick fouls, possibly the result of carelessness created by the “house money” mindset. Nah, that’s not something that Bridges would allow to happen.
  • Second of consecutive Jae Crowder 3s cuts the Clippers lead to 9-8 and, coming off a Game 2 oh-fer, Crowder and the Suns have to feel fortunate not to be down 9-2.
  • The Clippers’ 3-for-5 start from 3-point range is only a mirage. As Clippers guard – and general nuisance – Patrick Beverley misses another 3. Suns fans: “Keep shootin, Pat.” Clips finished the quarter missing eight in a row.
  • CP3 and Devin Booker are way off with their shooting, and this looks to be a problem. CP missed a signature midrange attempt and then basically airballed a baseline 17-footer. Booker’s Game 2 shooting troubles are not helped by the mask. He’s 0-5.
  • Phoenix Suns not named Deandre Ayton finish the first quarter shooting 4-for-18. Ayton was 5-for-6 and recently drew praise from a guy who shares his first name. Booker and Paul are 0-9. The game is based on making buckets. Rough start. “He’s getting his legs under him,” Suns coach Monty Williams tells ESPN’s Rachel Nichols of CP. “I expect him to play better.”

Phoenix Suns second quarter

  • Clippers fumble away two opportunities to reach a double-digit lead. Bridges (he’s back on laser focus, as if there was any doubt) delivers a put-back, and a Booker 3 allows Suns fans to breathe a little.
  • Another missed midrange from Booker, however, and the All-Star combo is 1-13. That’s not gonna work. Nor does anyone expect it to continue, but … .
  • Bridges single-handedly puts the Suns up for the first time, keeping alive an offensive rebound and then executing a big-boy midrange fadeaway.
  • Ivica Zubac complains more than Magic Johnson did.
  • A winning team just goes to the next option when the first couple of priorities aren’t working. Bridges’ 3 pads the lead a little, but a Paul George dunk reminds Phoenix there’s work left to be done.

Phoenix Suns third quarter

  • It takes a Mann to keep the Clippers alive – coupled with the fact that Cameron Payne won’t return due to a sprained ankle. Terance Mann always has the “want-to” and he has eight third-quarter points in just more than three minutes.
  • “They can’t be the more desperate team,” Williams said, adding that it is unacceptable to be outhustled by L.A. But it’s happening and both Booker and Paul need to shake off the rust.
  • A 21-3 Clippers run has provided a real test.
  • Suns pretty much fail the toughness challenge in the third. Beverley does his nuisance thing and Booker, who just picked up his fourth foul, reacts. Double Ts. ESPN’s Mark Jackson says a double T is how you control the game in that instance. And then Jeff Van Gundy, stunningly, said something truly intelligent: “I’d rather it you catch the first guy. That’s how you truly control the game.”
  • Paul George breaks L.A.’s 0-13 skid from 3 and this one continues to look like a “fail” — and then Booker executes a classic hard drive to the rim with a lefty finish. But, oh, that George half-court bank at the horn. To quell any controversy, the ESPN graphic was 0.2 slower than the game clock when seen in a frame-by-frame replay so, yeah, the shot should count.

Phoenix Suns fourth quarter

  • Signs that Saturday may be an opportunity for the Clippers to tie the series: Torrey Craig runner (?) is way off and then Dario Saric runs over Luke Kennard on a 3-pointer.
  • It’s no surprise to see the Suns charge back, though, and a Booker driving layup is rebounded and put back by Ayton. Timeout L.A. as the lead shrinks from 18 to 11. If nothing else, the Suns are flexing some toughness referenced by their coach earlier in the game.
  • Booker finishes what should have been an and-1, capping a 12-0 run to make it 89-83 with seven minutes left. If only the Suns weren’t so worn out from their long fight to rally.
  • A 5-0 Clippers run triggers a timeout. At least the Suns’ trademark attitude seems to have been restored. That will be an important tool on Saturday.
  • Crowder fouls out after the officials miss a clear push-off by Paul George. Crowder’s foul was apparently for touching George’s neck – a criminal act, it seemed, based on George’s comical overreaction.

Phoenix Suns: five from postgame

  • The “twins” Cam Johnson and Bridges produced a huge first-half lift. Booker and CP3 put up identically awful 2-for-10 field-goal performances.
  • A shot-clock violation with less than a minute remaining in the half spoke to the Suns’ consistent “want-to” – and perhaps the Clippers’ occasional “don’t really feel like it right now.” Phoenix 27, Clippers 17 in the second quarter and a 48-46 halftime lead.
  • But then the second half began. The small-ball Clippers lineup – even with the Suns’ decent defensive rotations – seems to be L.A. coach Ty Lue’s answer to his team’s challenge.
  • The Suns need to take this loss seriously because the adjustments by L.A. on defense took Phoenix out of its comfort zone early in offensive sets. Things were working much the same way they did for L.A. when the Clippers took apart the Jazz after trailing two games to none.
  • It’s a bottom-line business, and the bottom line is that the Suns didn’t hit the shots they have hit all season – and certainly all during the playoffs. Booker and Paul went 10-for-40. Yikes.

light. Related Story. Phoenix Suns targets to shut down

What is foremost on the minds of Suns fans for Game 4? Just hit the shots? Hope for a quick Cam Payne recovery? Really, it’s probably as simple as Chris Paul continuing to operate as he did in the fourth quarter Thursday night, coupled with Booker somehow feeling more comfortable with the mask (or just ditching the mask and risking some serious pain).

One thing is pretty clear and really shouldn’t happen: Reggie Jackson and Beverley outscored, outshot and maybe even outplayed Paul and Booker.

It wasn’t supposed to be easy, especially with the allure of playing with house money. Bring on Game 4.