Not often does a stat sheet reflect the referees’ impact on the game.
But in the LA Clippers’ 129-124 loss last night, there was one big stain left by the referees: 46 free throws. The Phoenix Suns were rewarded with 46 free throws, 21 more than the Clippers’ 25.
Some, admittedly, were correct calls. The Clippers, at times, came out too aggressive on close-outs and committed unnecessary fouls when the Suns successfully penetrated the paint. But a whopping 21 difference in fouls is more of a mark on the officials than the players.
But that didn’t stop the Clippers from giving the star-stacked Suns a run for their money.
Each of the seats in Crypto.com Arena covered with a royal blue ‘All Hands’ t-shirt, the Clippers came out showing their teeth. Norman Powell looked calm and poised, and he was the first to put the Clips on the board.
Russell Westbrook’s defensive intensity and contagious hustle were what kept the Clippers going through the first half. Deflections, steals, blocks — the former MVP put his heart out for a chance to beat the Suns.
Nearing the end of the first half, Powell exploded for seven consecutive points, singlehandedly cutting the Suns’ lead to just three before the half-time break. The UCLA product would continue to find the bottom of the net, eventually logging a team-high 42 points.
Westbrook was the other guard that was doing most of the heavy lifting for this injury-ridden squad. His energy and passion palpable, the nine-time All-Star stuffed the stat sheets with 30 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds.
His energy, however, did get the better of him in early moments of the game. Westbrook’s five turnovers in the first half took the momentum away from the Clippers and straight into the Suns. Devin Booker would capitalize from these careless errors throughout the game; he finished the game with 45 points on efficient shooting.
The Clippers’ defense struggled against the Suns’ star trio.
While many suspected offense to be the problem to the short-handed LA Clippers squad, it was very much the defense that couldn’t keep up with the Suns’ firepower.
Admittedly, they did address the big hole from the first two games of the series: players like Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton having open looks from the mid-range. Consequently, however, the Clippers looked a lot more vulnerable near the rim, a big reason behind the many different moments the Suns were sent to the foul line.
With a loss, the Clippers have now lost their home-court advantage and are sitting on the hot seat. If they don’t win game four, there looks to be little hope of making it out of the first round.
While we have yet to know the availability of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the next game, the Clippers, by hook or crook, will desperately look for a way to even the series. It might come in the hands of Westbrook. Or another offensive spectacle by Powell. Maybe Leonard will come back for game four.
Whatever it may be, a win is a must on Saturday.