Devin Booker scored 25 points and Chris Paul made several clutch free throws in the waning moments as the Phoenix Suns held for an 84-80 win over Los Angeles, putting the Clippers on the brink of elimination from the NBA playoffs.
The Suns led wire-to-wire but it was far from easy as they led by as many as 16 points in the third but saw that dwindle to just one in the fourth when both teams struggled to score, combining for just 29 points in the quarter.
Paul had vowed to be better in game four and he was, scoring 18 points, dishing out seven assists and making five free throws in the final 10 seconds as the Suns seized a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.
“We still got a ways to go but it felt good to get one here,” said Paul, who recently returned from Covid-19 isolation. “This was a tough environment.
“My nerves are better out here playing than they are at home watching.”
Deandre Ayton finished with 19 points and 22 rebounds and Mikal Bridges chipped in six points and 13 rebounds for the Suns, who are one win away from reaching their first NBA finals since 1993.
Game five is Monday night in Phoenix.
Paul George led the Clippers with 23 points and 16 rebounds while Reggie Jackson had 20 points and Ivica Zubac finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds in front of a crowd of 18,200 at Staples Center arena in downtown Los Angeles.
Booker was eight of 22 from the field and zero of five from three-point range as he had to adjust to playing with a plastic face guard to protect a broken nose he suffered in a collision with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley in game two.
“I believe in this team,” Booker said. “It was a close one but we came out with the win.
“We rely on our defense. To hold a team like that to 80 points on their home court is impressive.”
Booker removed the face mask for the second half, saying it was difficult to get into a flow with it on.
The Clippers once again played without their star Kawhi Leonard but Jackson has stepped up to fill some of the void. Jackson came into game four averaging 23 points in the games Leonard has been out.
“I have to play better offensively,” Jackson said. “We have to move the ball and find easy shots. And the ones we had tonight will probably go in the next game.”
Leonard has not played since suffering a right knee sprain in game four of the previous round.
This was one of the lowest-scoring games of these playoffs thanks to strong defensive play mixed in with some poor shooting by both teams in the fourth quarter.
With Booker sitting on the bench because of too many fouls, the game went through a four-minute stretch in the fourth where neither team scored a basket.
The Suns outscored the Clippers 15-14 in the final quarter.
The Clippers were unable to rally from a 2-0 deficit to tie the series like they did in each of the first two rounds of the postseason. They must now win three straight games in order to reach their first ever NBA finals.
George shot just five of 20 from the floor, made just 12 of 18 free throws and missed eight of nine from three-point range.
Asked if his players were tired, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, “It could be. But no excuses. At this time of the season guys could be tired. But we have to fight through.”