Phoenix Suns’ Game 3 preview: Crush the Clippers right now

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns-Los Angeles Clippers drama from Game 2 Tuesday night carried over into Wednesday when the NBA announced a one-day-delayed technical foul on L.A. center DeMarcus Cousins.

For Phoenix Suns fans, the Clippers present a puzzle that’s been fun to solve, and their faith extends to believing in a series victory and an NBA FInals appearance.

There will be no free throw for the Cousins technical foul, just the indignity for another player thrust into the “we hope he can excel” category by Clippers head coach Ty Lue.

The Suns hope to stifle the fireworks by stuffing the Clippers again Thursday night in Game 3.

The Suns’ 104-103 win put them up 2-0 in the Western Conference finals, but no edge is generally gained until one team wins on the other’s home court.

Thursday night, with Chris Paul presumably returning, could be that moment.

The Phoenix Suns are on the verge of putting a death grip on this series.

They’ll need a better game from Devin Booker, a quality effort from Mikal Bridges and a similar performance from Game 2 by Deandre Ayton and Cameron Johnson to get there.

This series already has reached the “chippy” point, with Booker refusing a (likely contrived) offering of good will late in Game 2 from annoying nemesis Patrick Beverley.

Beverley extended a hand as a symbol for, perhaps, an apology but Booker refused and continued walking toward the Suns’ huddle late on Tuesday night.

And then, later, Cousins mixed it up a little with Booker and Cameron Payne.

After review, the league determined there was enough to warrant a “T” for Cousins. Following Deandre Ayton’s “Valley-oop” or “De-alley-oop” or whatever you want to call it, there was some significant confusion as the celebrations and conversations continued.

Cousins and Suns standout performer Cameron Payne (29 points, nine assists and no turnovers) bumped one another and then Booker confronted Cousins — who then decided he’d go ahead and give Booker large push.

There’s your “T.”

Thursday night in Game 3 at L.A., the Phoenix Suns are expecting to receive a boost from the return of star point guard Chris Paul from COVID-19 protocols.

With literal blood on the floor (Booker’s and Beverley’s) in Game 2, this series could become even more physical Thursday night in Los Angeles.

The Suns have won a franchise-best nine straight playoff games, and, without Kawhi Leonard again, Clippers star Paul George will need shoulders stronger than those of LeBron James to push the Clippers over the finish line.

The Suns received huge contributions from players not named Booker. They found 24 points and 14 rebounds from Ayton (on 12-for-15 shooting from the field) and the aforementioned game-high 29 from Payne.

As for Booker, he’s truly an All-NBA guard. After playing 33.9 minutes per game during the regular season, he’s been on the court for 40.3 MPG in the playoffs — and 42.4 in Games 1 and 2 vs. the Clippers.

Oh, and wing standout Cam Johnson hit every shot he took (5-for-5).

The Suns were a 1 ½-point favorite, per FanDuel, entering Thursday.

George scored 26 points for the Clippers but missed two huge free throws. That will wear on someone not known for his mental toughness .George also made only 1 of 8 from 3-point range – and finished 5-10 overall from the free-throw line.

Bottom line: The Suns are playing with house money as the likelihood dims for Clippers fans hoping that Leonard returns. Phoenix can put the hammer down with a convincing Game 3 win that could suck the energy out of the Clippers’ camp and propel the Suns toward their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993.

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