The LA Clippers earned a hard-fought victory on Thursday night, using a strong second-half effort to defeat Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns by a final score of 113-103.
It was one of LA's most physical and chippy wins of the season, which came at a cost. Both Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris Sr. were ejected in the second half as tempers flared on both sides.
But despite the extracurriculars, the Clippers were still able to upend the Suns, who entered the night as winners of seven straight.
The game wasn't always in LA's control. There were nine lead changes in the first quarter alone, and although the Clippers were able to build their lead as high as eight points in the second quarter, it was the Suns who went into the half with a two-point advantage.
Phoenix built upon its lead early in the third, but LA continued to dig and kept things within one possession for the final six minutes of the frame. Momentum ultimately shifted to LA late in the quarter after Booker was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul for making excessive contact with Kawhi Leonard as the Clippers star drove to the rim.
Things would eventually simmer down, but not before Booker picked up a technical and Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris Sr. were ejected in the fourth. By then, though, the Clippers had already taken full control of the game and built their lead as high as 14 points.
With the win, the Clippers improved to 35-18 overall and 2-0 on the season against the Suns, giving LA the series win and a potential tiebreaker in the Western Conference standings.
Let's take a closer look at what went right for LA in its physical victory.
Paul George Ignites for 33 Points
What a week it's been for Paul George.
After dropping 36 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, George followed it up with a 33-point performance against the Phoenix Suns. He was red-hot from deep in both games, connecting on 13 of his 18 three-point attempts overall and 7-of-9 versus Phoenix.
After the contest, George said he intends to be more aggressive with his shot as the team progresses toward the postseason.
"I love it," George said. "I've been shooting the three-ball well, especially off the dribble. I will be more aggressive to look to score, look to take more threes, look for opportunities to get threes. The gift about this team, as [Rajon Rondo] stated, we got so many guys who shoot it well, so the floor is always spaced. We got a lot more space to go to work and operate. So, I'm definitely with the more-three campaign."
George has been one of the best volume shooters from three-point range this season, connecting on 44.1% of his 7.5 attempts per game on the year — the highest percentage of his career.
If George can keep this rolling into the playoffs, the Clippers will be in excellent shape on the offensive end of the floor.
Rajon Rondo Proves His Worth
As fantastic as George was in the win, Rajon Rondo was arguably the Clippers' most impactful player on Thursday night.
In his third game with his new team, the veteran point guard went off for a season-high 15 points and nine assists (with committing a single turnover) in less than 20 minutes off the bench. Unsurprisingly, his +24 plus/minus rating was a team-best.
These weren't just empty calories, either. Rondo spent more than nine minutes on the floor in the fourth quarter after Beverley was ejected and Reggie Jackson went to the locker room with an eye injury. Had he not supplied the team with dazzling passes, great defense and a few timely threes, there's a chance that this game could've gone Phoenix's way.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue spoke highly of Rondo's performance after the game.
"He was great," Lue said. "Doing everything we thought he was going to do when he came out here. Just controlled the game, controlled the tempo, making some great passes for guys to have open shots and layups. And defensively, he was great as well. He was talking and communicating."
It's early, but it feels safe to say that the Rondo experiment has been a success so far.
LA Continues to Win on Defense
Scoring has been the LA Clippers' calling card all season, but since the All-Star break, they've been almost as good at controlling games on the defensive end of the floor as well.
Since March 11, the Clippers are allowing just 104.2 points per game — more than five points less than what they were giving up from December to March. Granted, the post-All-Star break sample size isn't massive, but this is the team the Clippers have been trying to be all year long. Now that the coaching staff has them here, it doesn't seem likely that there would be a regression. At least, not a significant one.
It's not like the teams LA has played lately are bad on offense, either. Phoenix, Portland and Milwaukee are some of the most efficient groups in the NBA on that end of the floor, and the Clippers still managed to limit Denver to 101 in a loss.
Unlocking this team's full two-way potential will be vital to their postseason success, and it looks like LA is heading in the right direction.