Clippers forward Paul George takes a shot over Suns center Deandre Ayton on April 8 at Staples Center. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
A look at how the fourth-seeded Clippers and second-seeded Phoenix Suns match up in the Western Conference finals:
Clippers; Ht; Pos.; Ht; Suns
Terance Mann; 6-5; G/F; 6-6; Jae Crowder
Marcus Morris; 6-8; F; 6-6; Mikal Bridges
Nicolas Batum; 6-8; F/C; 6-11; Deandre Ayton
Paul George; 6-8; F/G; 6-5; Devin Booker
Reggie Jackson; 6-2; G; 6-1; Cameron Payne
The series will start without two of its biggest names because of Kawhi Leonard’s injured right knee and Chris Paul’s trip to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Both teams, though, have players who have proven unafraid of the big moment, with the Clippers riding Mann after one good start in Utah and one incredible performance in Game 6. The Suns will most logically turn to Cameron Payne, Paul’s speedy backup who played well in key minutes against the Lakers in the first round. If it’s Payne moving into the starting lineup, the Suns’ second unit will take a hit.
Clippers; Ht; Pos.; Ht; Suns
Patrick Beverley; 6-1; G/F; 6-8; Cameron Johnson
Ivica Zubac; 7-0; C/F; 6-10; Dario Saric
Rajon Rondo; 6-1; G/F; 6-7; Torrey Craig
Luke Kennard; 6-5; G; 6-1; Langston Galloway
Injuries have depleted both second units, with key players moving into the starting lineup. The Clippers would look a lot different with Leonard and Serge Ibaka (back surgery), and the same goes for the Suns with Paul. The Suns have used a tighter rotation than the Clippers, who have more experience and productivity on their bench. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has been a master at tinkering with rotations this postseason.
Clippers-Suns season series. (Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)
When the Clippers are on offense
Even without Leonard, the Clippers’ offense is dotted with above-average jump shooters, with those skills on full display against the Jazz when the team made 43.3% of its threes on more than 37 attempts per game. If the Clippers can get into the paint and score or, maybe even more importantly, draw fouls, they’ll be very tough to defend. No team shot better from the free-throw line this season than the Clippers. The Suns are an underrated defensive team, but they’ll be tested by the NBA’s most efficient offense this postseason (123.4 points per 100 possessions).
When the Suns are on offense
Much like Luka Doncic in the first round and Donovan Mitchell in the second round, the Clippers face a player capable of making obscenely difficult shots in the Suns’ Devin Booker. He’s bolstered by spot-up specialists like Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges, who is also a terrific slasher. On the inside, Deandre Ayton is more than capable of making defenses pay for paying too much attention to the Suns’ guards. If/when Paul plays, the Suns will get an offensive maestro who can get to his spots whenever he wants.
Clippers-Suns finals schedule (Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)
Both Monty Williams and Lue were considered as favorites for the Lakers job that eventually went to Frank Vogel. In Phoenix, Williams has built on his reputation as an excellent motivator. He’s also one of the people spoken about most highly in NBA circles. Lue’s made high-profile decisions in each of the first two series, pushing the right buttons at the right time while keeping the entire roster ready to be the “next man up.”
Neither team has much of a championship pedigree, with Phoenix looking to make its first Finals trip since 1993. The Suns have never won an NBA title, but at least they’ve been to the championship series twice. The Clippers are making their first trip to the conference finals. Either the Clippers or Paul will play for the championship, a guaranteed first to cap the NBA’s pandemic season.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.