The Los Angeles Clippers head to Arizona to take on the Phoenix Suns to tip off the Western Conference Finals. The Clippers have scratched and clawed their way through the postseason, as they’ve overcome a ton of adversity in the 2021 NBA Playoffs and have come out on top every time. They battled back against the Dallas Mavericks after going down 0-2, then did the same thing to the Utah Jazz in the second round.
LA is currently without Kawhi Leonard, who has been out the last two games and is already ruled out for Game 1 against Phoenix due to a knee injury. It’s unclear if Leonard will even return at all for this series, but there’s still some hope.
The Clippers will have to rely on Paul George as the top scoring option with Leonard out for the time being. They will have their hands full with a red-hot Suns team, though Phoenix is also currently missing a key player with CP3 in COVID-19 protocols. That levels the playing field a bit, and it’s unknown when Paul will be back. The assumption is CP3 will be back before Leonard, but we simply do not know at this time.
While the Suns have the fresh legs and home-court advantage, the Clippers have some advantages of their own. Here are three reasons LA will upset Phoenix and make its first NBA Finals in franchise history.
1. Playoff experience gives them an edge
The Clippers as a unit have more playoff experience than the Suns. Kawhi Leonard has won two rings of his own, while Paul George has participated in the postseason numerous times in his career. Other seasoned playoff veterans include Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley, who have had their fair share of playoff runs as well. Plus, don’t forget Tyronn Lue is a championship-winning head coach with plenty of NBA Finals experience.
Include the adversity this team has faced in this year’s postseason and you have yourself a dangerous Clippers team that will do anything to win. Look for LA to get aggressive and play physical basketball, as it could be the Clippers’ best chance of advancing to the NBA Finals. Lue’s adjustments over the course of the series will also come into play.
2. The Clippers don’t turn the ball over
The Clippers have done an excellent job taking care of the ball in the playoffs, and that will continue to be key against an elite Suns defense that can force turnovers. You can expect the Clippers to be extra careful with the ball, as their efficiency could carry them through this series.
On the flip side, Phoenix is typically good at controlling the ball with CP3 in the lineup, but his current absence will lead to more minutes for Cameron Payne. Will he be able to withstand the pressure and take care of the ball? The Clippers will surely try to find out.
3. LA’s perimeter defense can be the difference-maker
Both teams in this series play phenomenal defense, which could mean we see some low-scoring affairs. However, the Clippers’ perimeter defense is right there with the best in the league when they’re locked in, especially if Leonard returns from his knee injury. Leonard and George are known to be elite two-way players, while Beverley is also a nuisance. LA’s small lineups allow them to switch and be versatile on the defensive end.
A healthy Suns backcourt is their strongest asset, but Paul isn’t available right now, putting more pressure on Payne and Devin Booker to succeed against LA. Phoenix hasn’t faced anybody with elite perimeter defense in this postseason. The Los Angeles Lakers fell apart, while the Denver Nuggets had backcourt issues that prevented them from posing a threat. The Clippers are a different story, which could prove to be the key factor in this series.