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The most important thing you need to know about the Western Conference finals is that it’s taking place in a city that feels like a massive pizza oven.
The second-most important thing you need to know is that for the third consecutive series, the Clippers failed to win Game 1. With L.A. star Kawhi Leonard out and Suns star Chris Paul likely on the way back sooner than later, the Clippers don’t have as much time to adjust.
Here are six things they can do to flip Sunday’s 120-114 loss into a win:
1) Figure out Devin Booker
Easier said than done, right? Yup.
While Booker’s 40 points are a problem the Clippers certainly want to address, his 11 assists have to be more troublesome. Booker has played point guard for the Suns during stretches, and he’s adept at getting others involved — and will be asked to do so while Paul works through COVID protocols.
But you can’t let him score and dish, at least not at the level he did Sunday during his triple-double of 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
“It's going to be a tough challenge for us,” coach Tyronn Lue said, “guarding him and seeing how we want to guard him and defend him and what we want to take away and then you kind of go from there.”
2) Win the bench minutes
When the Suns have Devin Booker out of the game, the Clippers have to take better advantage. Part of this adjustment could be as simple as playing Patrick Beverley more and Rajon Rondo less.
Rondo made a pair of threes in the second half and spent some defending Booker, but the Clippers were outscored by 14 during Rondo's time on the court. His minus-14 worst on the team.
3) Attack the paint
The Clippers shot the ball well enough from three-point range to have won Sunday, making 20 threes. That’s not always good enough — ask the Utah Jazz.
Lue needs to find ways to get the Clippers guards and wings slashing more and getting to the rim, drawing fouls and scoring easy buckets. The Suns' perimeter defense is much better than Utah’s, but the Clippers need to find the matchups they want to hunt.
4) Get out and run (and get back)
The Clippers scored only four points on the fastbreak Sunday — an impossibly low number for a team that has so many players capable of scoring in transition. It was even worse that the Suns scored on all of their seven fastbreaks — those 16 points more than covering the final deficit.
One way this can get better? Score more.
“Just make some shots, I think,” Lue said when asked about correcting the transition gap. “Make a couple more shots, make them take it out of the basket and get [into] our half-court defense.”
5) Raise their level
As you keep advancing in the postseason, you keep playing better teams. While the Clippers were able to figure things out against Dallas and Utah in earlier playoff series, Phoenix is better.
“We've got to find a way to adjust. This is a different caliber team than the other two teams we faced," Paul George said. "A little bit more guard play. And so we just have to figure out how to counter, which we will. We'll figure out another game plan. As much as we wanted this one, I think this was a good feel-out game to see adjustments. We've been great adjusting, and you know, we've been great at playing better as the series goes on.”
6) Cross their fingers
Part of this is luck. Getting Marcus Morris' injured knee feeling better, getting a couple of more open looks to fall and staying composed will all be keys.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.