Clippers stun Suns in Game 1: Kawhi Leonard shines, Russell Westbrook gritty in win


The Clippers took Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Suns with a 115-110 victory over Phoenix at the Footprint Center on Sunday. Here’s what you should know:

  • Los Angeles star forward Kawhi Leonard led his team with 38 points, five rebounds and five assists while sinking nine of 10 free-throw attempts.
  • Russell Westbrook shot 3-of-19 from the floor, scoring nine points, but recorded eight assists, 10 rebounds, two steals and three blocks. He sealed the win with two free throws followed by a key defensive play in the final seconds.
  • Kevin Durant paced the Suns with 27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds while Devin Booker contributed 26 points.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Evaluating Westbrook’s outing

Westbrook did not have a good shooting game. In fact, it was his worst as a Clipper, making only three of 19 shots from the field, including only one of six 3s. The poor shooting hurt the Clippers during a 25-point Phoenix turnaround that drained a 16-point Clippers lead and had the Suns up nine points in the third quarter.

But Westbrook made all of the other plays in an impactful fourth quarter, especially in the last three minutes of the game with the Clippers clinging to a 100-99 lead. Just in that time, Westbrook had two rebounds, two assists, two clutch free throws and a game-sealing block of a quick Booker drive with the Clippers nursing a 3-point lead and neither team having a timeout left.

Overall, the Clippers outscored the Suns by three points in Westbrook’s fourth-quarter minutes, in a game that was tied entering the fourth quarter. Remarkably, Westbrook’s teams are now 2-0 when he shoots exactly 3-of-19 from the field, with the other win coming in Game 4 with the Washington Wizards in the 2021 quarterfinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Westbrook will need to be better at making shots, but his impact beyond shotmaking helped the Clippers steal home-court advantage. — Murray

What else worked for LA?

The Clippers started Game 1 with a defensive mindset against the Suns, holding Phoenix to 18 points on 21 shots. Westbrook blocked Durant’s shot as a part of an opening quarter effort that held Durant scoreless on four attempts, while Booker had an efficient opening quarter (six points on 3-of-8 shooting). Eric Gordon took on the Durant assignment with aplomb while leading all scorers with 12 first-quarter points on 5-of-6 shooting.

Leonard increased his scoring in each quarter, totaling a game-high 38 points on 13-of-24 shooting. But Leonard’s increased scoring was almost irrelevant after Durant and Booker unloaded for a combined 27 second-quarter points, then Torrey Craig — taking advantage of the Clippers turning Durant into a passer — scored 11 of his 22 points in the third quarter.

The Clippers’ bench saved this game, with Norman Powell leading the way with 14 points to outscore the entire Phoenix bench 14-10, while Terance Mann, Bones Hyland and Mason Plumlee added 20 more points. Leonard’s 13 fourth-quarter points were enough to outduel Durant’s 10 fourth-quarter points, and despite the Suns having more star power next to Durant, Leonard simply had more help.

The key stats for the Clippers were second-chance points and offensive rebounds. The Clippers had a 15-6 advantage on the offensive glass, nullifying the fact that the Suns won the turnover battle 14-10, while outscoring the Suns 12-7 on second-chance points. That second-chance point differential matched the final margin of the game. — Murray

What went wrong for Phoenix

The Suns battled back from 16 down. They positioned themselves to win. They just couldn’t get a defensive rebound when they needed one. Down 109-108 with a minute left, the Suns forced three missed shots — and failed to grab the rebound each time. That sequence ended with two Westbrook free throws that gave the Clippers the needed cushion to steal Game 1.

Some of it was simple urgency. Westbrook shot 3-of-19 from the field but was the most important player on the floor in the fourth quarter. He had five rebounds in the final quarter alone. Phoenix couldn’t match his energy. — Haller 

Suns’ depth a continued source of concern

With 4:42 left in the third quarter, Torrey Craig hit a 3 to give the Suns their biggest lead, 77-68. After a mostly quiet first half, a sold-out crowd at the Footprint Center came to life. Phoenix had momentum — and the Suns gave it all back.

Among the concerns after the Durant trade was a lack of depth. Here it was on display. With Phoenix playing mostly reserves, the Clippers outscored the Suns 13-4 the rest of the quarter to deadlock the contest at 81-81 entering the fourth. A huge opportunity for the Suns to take control slipped away. Overall, the Los Angeles bench outscored the Phoenix bench 34-10. No Phoenix reserve scored more than four points, an issue that will need to be addressed before Tuesday’s Game 2. — Haller

What they’re saying

“Humbly speaking, at this position, nobody’s better rebounding than me,” Westbrook said after the win.

Highlight of the game

Required reading


(Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)