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Clippers’ Paul George, Ty Lue break silence on going down 3-1 vs. Suns

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers, Paul George, Tyronn Lue, Terance Mann

Paul George, Ty Lue, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ backs are officially against the wall once again. After overcoming an 0-2 deficit against both the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, the Clippers also started their series against the Phoenix Suns down 0-2 as well. The only difference is they’ll now face a daunting 3-1 hole against the Suns without their best player in Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers dropped Game 4 to the Phoenix Suns, 84-80. They’ll face elimination for the third time in 18 postseason games, but his belief in the team hasn’t wavered.

“Just got to take it one game at a time,” Ty Lue said after the loss. “Just focus on Monday’s game, that’s it. Not focus on winning three games. Got to take it one game at a time, and that’s got to be our mindset. We beat Utah and won four games in a row. So it’s very doable. We’ve just got to make sure we’re locked in and understand what we’re doing offensively. I think we’ve got to be more locked in offensively to beat this team.”

The Clippers used another third quarter surge to claw back from a horrific first half where they were lucky to be down only 14 at the break. Trailing 71-70 with 10:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, however, both teams went scoreless for nearly four minutes. The Clippers missed 12 consecutive shots that could’ve tied the game or taken the lead during that four minute span.

“We had I think 12 possessions in the fourth quarter to take the lead and we just couldn’t get over the hump. I mean, it happens. I’m really proud of the way our guys competed and fought all night. To hold this team to 34 points in the second half, they are a powerful offense. But our guys, I thought we competed, just couldn’t make shots. Thought we took it personal a few times and just kind of over-dribbled sometimes. But for the most part we competed, and that’s going to happen. But like I said, I’m proud of our guys, the way they competed and we’ve just got to make some shots. That’s it.”

Fans at Staples Center remained standing for most of the fourth quarter, watching every miss and keeping hope alive that their Clippers can pull off a come-from-behind win like they did in Game 6 against the Jazz and Game 3 against the Suns.

Paul George scored 23 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and dished out six assists in 42 minutes, but he shot just 5-of-20 from the field. It was his second worst shooting night of the postseason and worst from three. He also shot 12-of-18 from the free throw line, missing a number of free throws that certainly came back to haunt the Clippers.

“I think just try to find rhythm inside closer to the basket,” Paul George said when asked how he can get off to better shooting starts. “You know, try to get a game plan, just to get Ayton to step up by taking a couple long ones. Just to put it on their mind to try to get Ayton to come up so I can play down in the paint a little bit. Tonight, I couldn’t get it to go. You know, it’s just what it is. I feel good. Not going to let that be an excuse or have something to fall back on. I feel good. When I’m out there, I feel good.”

George wasn’t the only Clipper that struggled. Reggie Jackson shot just 8-of-24 on the night. As a team, the Clippers made just 32.5 percent of their attempts (27-of-85) and just 16.1 percent of their threes (5-of-31)

Despite facing the 3-1 hole along with his shooting struggles, George has also taken on Ty Lue’s mentality heading into a do-or-die Game 5.

“We’re definitely hopeful. Definitely positive. I mean, this series could be very different with a handful of plays that we could take back and different outcome on some of these plays. Tonight was a tough one. We had an opportunity to take the lead for a couple possessions. We just had a hard time putting the basket in the hole. That’s honestly the game. We played great defense. Just had a hard time scoring tonight.”

The last team to come from a 3-1 deficit was the Denver Nuggets during last year’s postseason. The Clippers will need to string together three consecutive wins against the Suns to advance to their NBA Finals, and it’ll be a lot harder to do without Kawhi Leonard around for Game 5.

Paul George doesn’t know the extent of Leonard’s injury, but says he shouldn’t play if he’s not 100%.

“I can’t speak for him, to the health of Kawhi, but if he’s not a hundred, we don’t want him out there,” Paul George said of Kawhi Leonard potentially returning from his injury. “That’s just as a brother, as a teammate, his health long-term is more important than what’s going on now. I can’t speak on the extent of his injury or you know what he and cannot give us. Like I’ve been saying, his health is just more important than anything else.”

The team still hasn’t provided any update on Leonard, who missed his sixth straight game with a sprained right knee. He’s watched the last several games from a Staples Center suite and hasn’t been seen wearing a brace or walking with any kind of limp.

Still, Clippers fans who were hoping to see Leonard return at some point during the Conference Finals have been thoroughly disappointed. Even if the Clippers were to make it to the NBA Finals, however, a source told ClutchPoints that Leonard likely wouldn’t be available for that round either as he deals with a sprained right ACL.

Now, they’ll need to play with a sense of desperation that they’ve never played with before.

“Yeah, it’s going to be hard,” Paul George added. “It’s going to be tough. But it’s got to be one game at a time. It’s win-or-go-home. So Game 5 is a must-win. That’s just what it has to be. Our mindset has to be do whatever it takes and play as hard as we can. We’ve got to win Game 5.”

The loss dropped the Clippers to 9-8 in the postseason. The team still holds a +90 point differential despite only having one more win than loss through 17 games. That means they continue to lose tight games, but come away with blowout victories as well.

Game 5 between the Clippers and Suns will take place back in Phoenix on Monday night. If the Clippers are able to force a Game 6, it’ll be played Wednesday back in Los Angeles.