The Last Five Minutes

A tied game becomes a different thing when you know the other team can hit their shots, and then they start hitting them. Against a Finals-proven (and Kevin Durant-aided) team like the Phoenix Suns, it is only so much more demoralizing to watch a ball clink-clank-clunk through the rim than it is to watch a swish, but the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers experienced both on Tuesday evening.

In one of the more entertaining series of a wildly entertaining first round, the Clippers, already without Paul George, took it to the Suns in the two games featuring Kawhi Leonard, in which he scored over 34 points a game. It began to fall apart when Leonard’s knee reminded him of some pain. That pain, which we all felt with him, meant that the Clippers were in the hands of one man, at least to start.

Terrence Mann hit a three when it was needed – remember the play, because you already know the name. He fouled when needed, too. The Suns continued on after that, understanding what’s possible.

Explicitly, yes, sorry: an injury to Leonard meant they handed the reins to a 34-year-old Russell Westbrook, who – expectations be damned! – played perhaps the best defense of his professional career, in addition to, somehow, becoming a jump shooting option?

“Thank you for nothing, Phoenix!” – Charles Barkley, Tuesday night on national television

Being on the losing end of one of the greatest shots in NBA history, courtesy of Damian Lillard, Russ also hit one of the more insane buzzer-beaters any recent NBA fan has seen, or otherwise. To hit one of the biggest threes in league history – the one against a pre-MVP Jokic Nuggets team; but you also may have searched sites of dubious importance in order to watch him execute the 20-20-20 game, in tribute.

Under Steve Ballmer, the Clippers have positioned themselves as the deepest team possible, filling in lost contracts. It’s a weird idea to think that they needed more, but maybe they needed more in the sense that everybody with everything always thinks they need more.

Laugh, but then: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George wouldn’t be enough – except, their less-heralded joining of arms in the summer of 2019, right after Kawhi led the Raptors to the championship in the greatest mercenary season of all-time, should’ve signaled something else: a title run, with a timeline.

We’ll see what the Suns have left, but any team that has Kevin Durant on it is like any team that had an unstoppable version of Julius Erving on it: they had a chance. Durant can do anything with the ball. The Clippers should’ve been able to do more.


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