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The LA Clippers are used to being down 2-0 in the 2021 NBA Playoffs by now, but this time feels different. It’s not just the continued absence of Kawhi Leonard either; in the last round against the Utah Jazz, the Clippers used their 3-point shooting and dribble penetration against a banged-up backcourt to spread the Jazz out wide and exploit Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with long-range bombs, and they did that without Leonard for the last two games of the series.
Yet even as Los Angeles has carried the most efficient 3-point shooting attack into these first two games of the Western Conference Finals, the results haven’t been quite what they were hoping for, as they once again find themselves in a 2-0 hole.
In Game 1, the Clippers converted 20 of their 47 3-point attempts (42.6 percent). Meanwhile, the Suns made 13 of their 32 attempts — still an incredible 40.6 percent conversion rate, but it made Phoenix a minus-21 in points off 3-pointers thanks to the Clippers’ prolific long-range attack.
In Game 2’s last-second loss, LA made 13 of its 34 triples (38.2 percent) compared to 6-of-26 shooting (23.1 percent) for Phoenix. Despite scoring 21 more points off of 3-pointers yet again, they still lost. Again.
Phoenix’s ultra-efficiency inside the arc has been a main culprit to explain why the math just isn’t adding up for LA yet. In Game 1, the Suns shot an absurd 36-for-57 (63.2 percent) on 2-pointers, outscoring Los Angeles 54-34 in points in the paint and 16-4 in fast break points.
The Clippers actually won the transition battle 4-2 in Game 2, but they got walloped in points in the paint (60-30) and Phoenix was unstoppable on 2-pointers again, going 35-for-56 from inside the arc (62.5 percent).
Through two games, the Clippers have scored 42 more points from long distance while canning an impressive 40.7 percent of their 3s, which is not easy to do against an impressive Suns defense. But they’ve also been outscored by 50 in points in the paint, and Phoenix has been more efficient in the mid-range, which is concerning since the team only has one of its two mid-range maestros currently available. Add Chris Paul to Devin Booker and suddenly this series gets worse in a hurry, especially if Leonard can’t return from the knee injury that will likely keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future.
In today’s NBA, the old “live by the 3, die by the 3 adage” has turned more into “if you can’t shoot 3s, you’re definitely going to die.” It’s just a staple of the modern game now, and it’s why the Clippers were so successful in making a three-time DPOY like Rudy Gobert look useless. This was to be expected from the team that led the NBA in 3-point efficiency during the regular season.
But Deandre Ayton is no such liability, and he’s punishing LA on the other end for their lack of size. If Tyronn Lue and company can’t find a way to get some of those other numbers to swing in their favor, the 3-point math that’s worked wonders for them all season long might come up short as long as they’re still trying to solve for the equation of “NBA Finals.”
It’s difficult to describe the significance of Deandre Ayton’s game-winner in Game 2, but the “Valley-Oop” really is the culmination of his growth and Monty Williams’ influence on the Suns.
With the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery settled, it’s time for more mock drafts!