Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: What to watch for in Game 5 between Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers

The Phoenix Suns head back home with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out the LA Clippers to advance to the NBA Finals.

With Kawhi Leonard still out with a knee injury, can the Clippers muster enough offence to keep this series alive and send things back to Los Angeles with an opportunity to force a Game 7?

Take a look at a few things to watch for in Monday's Game 5.

What to watch for in Suns-Clippers Game 5

More offence

Game 4 between these two teams could best be described as a rock fight.

With an early 1990s-style final score of 84-80, the Suns edged out the Clippers in what was the lowest-scoring game of the entire NBA season. Not just the playoffs - the whole regular season.

84 points marked Phoenix's lowest individual scoring total of the season, while LA was held to just 73 points in a 51-point blowout against the Dallas Mavericks earlier in the year.

The Suns shot 36.0 percent from the field (their second-lowest mark of the season) and 20.0 percent from 3-point range (tied for their third-lowest mark of the season) while their four made 3-pointers were tied for their fewest in a game this year. As for the Clippers, shooting 32.5 percent from the field was their lowest field goal percentage in a game this season, while their 16.1 percent clip on five made 3-pointers were each their second-worst marks of the season.

While both teams seemed to have figured each other out - which led to the low-scoring affair in Game 4 - we also saw typically efficient scorers way off the mark.

Chris Paul (6-22 FG, 0-3 3PT) and Devin Booker (8-22 FG, 0-5 3PT) combined to shoot 14-for-44 from the field and 0-for-8 from 3-point range. This was the second-consecutive contest where Phoenix's two stars struggled and it's hard to believe they will stay in this funk when returning back home.

Paul George stuffed the stat sheet but still shot 5-for-20 from the field and 1-for-9 from 3. Reggie Jackson was shooting near-50-40-90 prior to Game 4 and went 8-for-24 from the field and 2-for-9 from beyond the arc. In limited playing time due to a nagging knee injury, Marcus Morris Sr. was held to just four points while shooting 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3.

All of this to say: it would be safe to expect a higher scoring Game 5.

The Deandre Ayton difference

In a game full of missed shots and ugly offence, Ayton was there to clean up the mess and help lead the Suns to a win.

Going for an impactful double-double of 19 points and 22 rebounds, Ayton was the best player on the floor in Game 4. His 22 rebounds were the third-most ever by a Suns player in a playoff game, trailing only Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who surpassed that number twice.

Nine of Ayton's 22 boards came on the offensive glass, with a couple of those offensive rebounds coming in a timely manner in the fourth quarter to create extra possessions for Phoneix to drain more time off the clock.

His 19 points came on an efficient 8-for-14 shooting from the field and he also recorded a playoff-career-high four blocks, continuing what has been a breakout series - and postseason as a whole - for the 22-year-old center.

Deandre Ayton's breakout 2021 Playoffs
PPG RPG APG BPG FG%
Western Conference Finals 20.3 13.5 1.5 1.8 69.6
2021 Playoffs 16.6 11.4 0.9 0.9 70.9

MORE: How Deandre Ayton has remade himself on the NBA's biggest stage

You could legitimately make the case that Ayton has been the best player in the Western Conference Finals and if the Suns are going to close out the series in Game 5 and advance to the NBA Finals, the former No. 1 pick will surely have his fingerprints all over the game.

Chris Paul's first NBA Finals on the horizon?

Paul and the NBA Finals: something that has been a 15-year stalemate for the future Hall of Famer.

The Suns floor general is so close to his first-career NBA Finals appearance that he can almost taste it, but it's not the first time he has been one win away from the game's biggest stage, either.

The only other time that Paul has been to the Conference Finals over the course of his illustrious career was in 2018, where he led the Houston Rockets to a 3-2 series lead over the Golden State Warriors. He would suffer a hamstring injury at the end of Game 5 that would cause him to miss both Games 6 and 7 - a pair of losses for the Rockets as the Warriors went on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA Finals.

In 2015, Paul's Clippers let a 3-1 lead slip away to the Rockets in the Conference Semifinals. He has also been a part of another 3-2 series-lead letdown, back in 2008 against the San Antonio Spurs as a member of the New Orleans Hornets.

Paul is well aware that being one win away doesn't mean the series is decided, so look for the 11-time All-Star to bring a sense of urgency in Game 5 with his first Finals appearance right on the doorstep.

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