The LA Clippers made postseason history with their wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz. After falling down 2-0 in each series, the Clippers fought from behind and won each, becoming the only team in NBA history to overcome two 2-0 deficits in the same playoffs.
Having fallen behind 2-0 to the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers would really set themselves apart in the history books with a third consecutive comeback. But on top of making that recovery, LA will also have to overcome a steeper, more difficult 3-1 after losing Game 4 on Saturday night.
"Just got to take it one game at a time," Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said after the loss. "Just focus on Monday's game, that's it. Not focus on winning three games... 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."
The Clippers, a top-five offense in the regular season and one of the greatest shooting teams in the history of the league, experienced almost all of their issues on that end of the floor in Game 4.
LA scored a mere 36 points in the first half and 80 on the night, shooting an abysmal 32.5% from the field and 16.1% (5-of-31) from three-point range. The Clippers even struggled from the charity stripe, connecting on just 65.6% of their 32 attempts.
Despite all that, this is a game that the Clippers were very much in, and had they not blown multiple opportunities to take control of the contest, there's a very good chance that this series would be tied at two games apiece right now.
"We had, I think, 12 possessions in the fourth quarter to take the lead, and we just couldn't get over the hump," Lue said. "I mean, it happens. I'm really proud of the way our guys competed and fought all night."
Final score aside, we can take a few things from the loss as the Clippers look to get back into the series in Game 5. Let's get into it.
The Coldest of Cold Stretches
Game 4 was hardly an example of the modern basketball we've come to grow and love. Fans of early 2000s hoops surely enjoyed the throwback performance, but this kind of showing is an ugly outlier these days.
Both the Clippers and the Suns had scoreless stretches of at least five minutes. LA went more than six minutes without getting a single bucket to fall in the second quarter. Phoenix went more than five early in the fourth.
On the night, both teams combined for 110 rebounds and saw nine of their 51 three-point attempts go down. There were 24 turnovers and 46 personal fouls called, with seven different players picking up at least four.
However, no other aspect of this game compares to the ice-cold stretch that each team endured in the fourth quarter.
Through the first six minutes of the final frame, the Clippers and Suns combined to score just eight points. For nearly four full minutes, the score sat at 71-70 in favor of the Suns.
In that time, the Clippers missed eight shots in a row and saw a free throw rim out as they attempted to tie the game or take the lead. On the other side, the Suns missed seven in a row before Deandre Ayton threw down a lob from Chris Paul out of a timeout.
"I mean, over the years, there's nights like that," Paul George said. "You just try to play through it. You just try to get a breakthrough. You try to bring energy. You try to play a little faster. It's just tough. We couldn't get the ball to go down in that stretch, and really for the whole night."
On the bright side, it looks like the Clippers have absolutely found something on defense in the pairing of Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac. The Suns scored 120 points in Game 1, but since Lue made the adjustment to put them both in the starting lineup, Phoenix is averaging just 98 points per game.
If LA can keep up that kind of defensive intensity as the series progresses, they'll continue to have opportunities to win. But as it stands, scoring remains the bigger concern.
Offense Picks Up in Second Half
Despite scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter, the Clippers actually put up more points in the second half than they did in the first. Up until their cold streak in the fourth quarter, LA looked as though it had enough in the tank to pull out the comeback.
The third quarter is where the Clippers really looked as though they were at their best. LA scored a game-high 30 points in the frame on 55% shooting and had six different players sink at least one bucket, highlighting a balanced scoring attack. Zubac and Reggie Jackson played all 12 minutes in the quarter, while George and Beverley logged 10.
Coach Lue didn't want to say what it was, but the Clippers clearly found something that worked in the frame.
"We decided to make an adjustment with Zu and have him do something different," Lue said. "I'm not going to really talk about it, but it allowed our guys to get downhill a little bit more and get into the paint. That's good for us, and that's something we can use going into Game 5."
16 of LA's 30 third-quarter points were scored in the paint, with 15 of their 20 attempts coming there as well. LA only attempted three three-pointers in the frame.
This was, in many ways, the most encouraging period of Game 4. LA looked dominant on both ends of the floor and looked especially strong when attacking the rim. If the Clippers can find a way to replicate their third-quarter performance as the series progresses (and mix in some more threes), they'll have a chance to overcome this deficit.
Another Comeback in the Cards?
If ever there was a team that could overcome a 3-1 deficit against these Suns, it's the Clippers. Not only has this team proven to be incredibly resilient over the course of the regular season and the playoffs, but this is a group led by the only coach to ever bring his team back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.
The personnel is absolutely there.
On the outside, the Clippers are projecting confidence. The team obviously understands the stakes and knows that there is no longer any margin for error — especially as Kawhi Leonard remains sidelined — but they genuinely seem to believe that they can pull this off.
Reggie Jackson, LA's worry-free point guard, has led the team in the optimism department all year long. Win or lose, Jackson's belief in himself and this team never appears to be shaken. After losing Game 4, he delivered an on-brand response when asked about facing a 3-1 deficit.
"We've been down before," Jackson said. "It's tough. We've had our backs against the wall and we've been in elimination games. This team is ready, and this team is confident... I have to figure out how to be better and help the team find a shot every time I'm on the court."
Terance Mann, who scored 12 points off the bench in Game 4, also seems confident in his team's ability to get back in this series.
"I've just got to bring energy for these next three games," Mann said. "I know everybody is ready to win. So there won't be any lack of energy out there."
Time will tell if the Clippers can translate their confidence into results, but for now, it sounds as though they're prepared to come out and make a push in Game 5.