Veteran Patrick Beverley has been traded for the second time in two days with the Memphis Grizzlies sending the point guard to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 33-year-old played a key part in the Los Angeles Clippers' 2021 playoffs campaign, marking Devin Booker closely in their Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns.

Beverley was also ejected from Game 6 of the series following a forceful push on Chris Paul during a stoppage.

The Grizzlies had acquired Beverley from the Clippers in a trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to Los Angeles on Sunday but Memphis made another move on Tuesday.

Beverley has been traded to the Timberwolves in exchange for guard Jarrett Culver and forward Juancho Hernangomez.

Chicago-born Beverley had been with the Clippers since 2017 but lost his starting spot in the 2021 playoffs to Reggie Jackson.

Beverley averaged 7.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in the 2020-21 NBA season but was more known for his defensive hustle.

Kawhi Leonard has committed his future to the Los Angeles Clippers by agreeing a four-year contract that includes a player option, according to reports.

Leonard had declined a $36million option to enter free agency after the NBA postseason, though it was expected he would opt to return to the Clippers.

The five-time NBA All-Star suffered a serious knee injury during the playoffs, going down during the Western Conference finals. Without him, Los Angeles went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

Having undergone surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, it is unclear exactly when Leonard will be ready to get back on the court. It has been reported he will miss an extended amount of the 2021-22 season as he works his way back to full fitness.

However, the Clippers at least know they have him locked up for the long term. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Twitter that the deal is worth $176.3m with an option for the fourth and final year.

Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The 30-year-old opted to join forces with Paul George at the Clippers, with their two seasons together seeing the team finish second and then fourth in the West.

They went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the 2020-21 regular season, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, L.A. have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference finals respectively in the past two seasons.

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are expected to decline player options for next season ahead of the NBA free agency period opening on Monday, but the veteran stars may stay with their teams.

After leading the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals, Paul will not exercise his $44million option for the 2021-22 season, The Athletic reported. ESPN added that the Suns are optimistic they will be able to re-sign the 36-year-old. 

Yahoo Sports first reported Leonard would decline his $36m option with the Los Angeles Clippers and become an unrestricted free agent, but ESPN reports he is expected to remain with the Clippers on a new deal after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the playoffs. 

Even if they end up staying where they are, those two will be the two biggest names on the open market beginning on Monday, but others figure to be available in trades. 

Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors may top that list as he is expected to move on from Toronto. ESPN reported that the Miami Heat's move to pick up Goran Dragic's $19.4m team option might have been designed to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal for Lowry. 

Ben Simmons also could be on the move from the Philadelphia 76ers, but Bradley Beal now seems set to stay with the Washington Wizards after they sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in a draft-night trade. 

The term "positionless" has been all the buzz in the NBA the last few years, and the first round of the 2021 draft followed that trend as the Detroit Pistons took Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick and players with similar skill sets went off the board soon after. 

Longstanding positional terms like guard, forward and center have gone out the window as athletic players like NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets have taken over the league, and Cunningham leads the latest crop of versatile options. 

Checking in at 6-foot-8, Cunningham often plays like a point guard, leading his team down the floor – exactly the kind of headache-inducing matchup teams are seeking these days. 

After the Houston Rockets took guard Jalen Green second overall and the Cleveland Cavaliers used the third pick on big man Evan Mobley, the Toronto Raptors surprised many prognosticators by taking another of those positionless players at number four with Scottie Barnes. 

At 6-foot-9, his role at Florida State was similar to Cunningham's at Oklahoma State, running the offence while defending across multiple positions. 

"He's a multi-faceted, multi-positional two-way player," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "We like guys that can handle, pass, score, defend, rebound a little bit and just kind of come at you in waves with that." 

Most had expected Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs to be Toronto's pick after US fans fell in love with him during the NCAA Tournament, but he fell to the Orlando Magic at number five. 

The Okahoma City Thunder then took yet another 6-8 talent in Australia's Josh Giddey at number six in a move that caught many off guard. 

It was more of the same with the following pick as the Golden State Warriors took Jonathan Kuminga, a player who can defend anyone and is unafraid to launch from three-point range. 

It was that kind of night as NBA teams added young talent while trading players and picks in this and future drafts.

Because most transactions cannot become official until August 6, teams selected players they know they will not keep due to deals made ahead of and during the draft. 

Those types of moves prevailed in the latter half of the first round, with numerous reported trades on the cards. 

Among them, yet another versatile big man in Turkey's Alperen Sengun, who was drafted at number 16 by the Oklahoma City Thunder but reportedly will play for Houston. 

The 6-foot-10 Sengun told reporters he believes his passing abilities will help him excel as other European imports have done before him. 

"With my new team, Houston, I will bring something different on the court," he said. "I will do whatever it takes and whatever is needed." 

As the lines between positions and roles continue to blur in the NBA, that approach has increasingly become the default setting across the board. 

 

2021 NBA Draft first-round picks

1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, USA
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, USC
4. Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes, Florida State
5. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey, Australia
7. Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, Congo
8. Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner, Michigan
9. Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, Baylor
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Ziaire Williams, Stanford (traded to Grizzlies)
11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight, Connecticut
12. San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo, Alabama
13. Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte, Oregon
14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, Arkansas 
15. Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
16. Oklahoma City Thunder – Alperen Sengun, Turkey (reportedly traded to Rockets)
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Trey Murphy III, Virginia (traded to Pelicans)
18. Oklahoma City Thunder – Tre Mann, Florida
19. New York Knicks – Kai Jones, Texas (reportedly traded to Hornets)
20. Atlanta Hawks –Jalen Johnson, Duke
21. New York Knicks – Keon Johnson, Tennessee
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky (traded to Pacers via Wizards)
23. Houston Rockets – Usman Garuba, Spain
24. Houston Rockets – Josh Christopher, Arizona State
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Quentin Grimes, Houston (reportedly traded to Knicks)
26. Denver Nuggets – Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
27. Brooklyn Nets – Cam Thomas, LSU
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Jaden Springer, Tennessee
29. Phoenix Suns – Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina (reportedly traded to Nets)
30. Utah Jazz – Santi Aldama, Loyola (reportedly traded to Grizzlies)

The Los Angeles Clippers announced on Tuesday that star forward Kawhi Leonard has undergone surgery on a partially torn ACL.

Two-time NBA Finals MVP Leonard sat out the Clippers' last eight games in the postseason with a knee injury, with details undisclosed at the time.

The Clippers confirmed on Tuesday that the 30-year-old had gone under the knife, with no timeframe set on his recovery.

ACL surgery typically requires 12 months of rehabilitation and recovery to return to the court, although the Clippers stated Leonard's tear was only "partial" offering hope of a shorter timeframe.

Leonard originally sustained the knee injury in Game 4 of the Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz.

The Clippers had insisted Leonard was a game-by-game proposition but he did not return in the postseason as they bowed out in the Conference Finals to the Phoenix Suns.

The small forward averaged 24.8 points per game in the 2020-21 NBA regular season, along with 6.5 rebounds and a career-high 5.2 assists per game.

Leonard averaged 30.4 points per game in the postseason, with a career-best field goal percentage of 57.3 per cent, before injury intervened.

There was disappointment but no regret for the Los Angeles Clippers after their season came to an end Wednesday.

Though head coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged there was a sense of "shock" in his locker room following a 130-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, he and his players were proud of what they accomplished. 

After rallying from 0-2 deficits to win their first two series against the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, the Clippers could not do the same against the Suns with injured star Kawhi Leonard sitting out the entire series. 

Despite falling short of winning their first championship, they took solace in completing the franchise's deepest postseason run. 

"I'm proud of our guys," Lue told reporters. "We've been through a lot this season, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries, but our guys stayed the course. 

"We did something special this year. Even though we didn't complete what we wanted to complete, I thought we did a great job of doing something special, doing something this franchise has never done before.

"Like I told those guys in the locker room, I love those guys and I'd go to war with them any time. I'm just proud of them. Even though we came up short, it was a great run, despite everything we had to go through."

Atop that list in the playoffs was the loss of Leonard, the two-time NBA champion who was averaging 30.4 points per game in the playoffs when he went down with a knee injury in Game 4 of the Jazz series. 

Leonard missed all eight of the Clippers' remaining games, leaving the burden of carrying the team to Paul George. 

"I thought this team squeezed everything we could out of what we had," George said. "We squeezed everything out of one another and I thought we got stronger and better as the season went on." 

Proud as George was, the 31-year-old once again missed out on making his first trip to the NBA Finals. 

"It is what it is -- I came up short again," he said.

"I wasn't out to prove nothing to nobody, but to show up as a leader for this team, put us in a position to get to where we got to. Came up short. Our good wasn't enough." 

Though the odds certainly were stacked against them late given Leonard's absence, Lue said there was an air of disbelief their their season was actually finished. 

"I think it's a shock to a lot of guys in that locker room, and that tells you a lot about the team," he said.

"No matter who's playing, we still feel like every night we have a chance to win. I thought we ran out of gas."

The Phoenix Suns and Chris Paul have ended their respective long waits for NBA Finals appearances after a 130-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers sealed their spot on Wednesday.

The Suns clinched the Western Conference Finals series 4-2, rounding out the triumph with an outstanding road win, with Phoenix back in the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years.

Suns' 36-year-old point guard Paul was exceptional with 41 points as he progresses to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, after 13 playoffs campaigns.

Paul hit seven-from-eight three-pointers in a masterful shooting display, going at 66.7 per cent from the field, as well as eight assists, four rebounds and three steals with no turnovers.

Devin Booker contributed with 22 points, four assists and seven rebounds, Deandre Ayton had 17 rebounds along with 16 points, while Jae Crowder hit five three-pointers in his 19 points.

Phoenix are crowned Western Conference champions having gone 12-4 in the postseason, including 6-2 on the road, clinching all three series away.

The Suns become the first team in history to reach the NBA Finals having not made the playoffs in 10 or more years prior.

The Clippers could not muster one more memorable comeback after some dramatic performances this postseason, closing within seven points late in the third before Paul showed irrepressible poise.

Paul George managed 21 points with nine rebounds for the Clippers, while Marcus Morris Sr scored 26 points and had nine rebounds.

Patrick Beverley was ejected in the fourth quarter for a push on Paul as reality set in for LA, who were behind for the most part of Wednesday's Game 6.

Paul's shooting was clearly on early as the Suns opened up a 10-point half-time lead, with Phoenix shooting at 58.8 per cent from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Clippers had a 10-0 run to close within seven points late in the third quarter as the home crowd erupted after Nicolas Batum's three-pointer.

But Paul steadied for Phoenix with a long-range bucket immediately after the timeout, opening it up to 14 points at the final change and they would not relent, with the Suns veteran adding 17 fourth-quarter points.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Star pair Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both likely to be out for the crucial Game 5 as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Atlanta Hawks with the series at 2-2.

Paul George says he "can't worry" about critics after his masterful Game 5 display against the Phoenix Suns kept the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs.

George was the star of the show in a resounding 116-102 victory at Phoenix Suns Arena on Monday.

The seven-time NBA All-Star scored a career postseason-high 41 points, including 30 in the second half, to reduce the Suns' lead to 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals.

George became the first player in NBA history to score 40 points or more with at least 75 per cent field goals, 50 per cent three-pointers and a perfect record with free-throws.

The shooting guard feels he has been harshly singled out, but will pay little attention to those who continue to point the finger at him.

Asked if he feels he has been criticised more than other NBA stars, he said: "I do. And it's the honest truth. It's a fact.

"But I can't worry about that. It comes with the job, I guess. I still try to go and dominate and so I'm beyond that, you know what I mean. I am who I am. I wish I could shoot 80 per cent, 75 per cent, on a nightly basis, but it's not realistic."

He added: "What I can do is do everything else. They can judge me on what they want to. That part don't matter to me. I'm going to go out there and hoop and give it everything I got."

 

George has put up at least 20 points in all 18 games he has played during this postseason. The only other players in NBA history to score at 20 or more points in their first 18 games of a single NBA playoffs are Michael Jordan (1992, 1997, 1998), Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012, 2018).

George becomes the third player since the 1996-97 season to score 30-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in the second half of a postseason game, joining Anthony Davis (2020) and Dwyane Wade (2010).

Clippers coach Ty Lue has been baffled by criticism of George.

"PG has been great for us all year and I just don't understand why it's magnified so much when he doesn't play well,” said Lue.

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue does not understand the criticism of Paul George after the star helped the team avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs with a 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns.

George scored a career postseason-high 41 points, including 30 in the second half, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals as the Clippers stayed alive in the postseason series on Monday.

The 31-year-old stepped up when the Clippers were challenged in the third quarter, with second-seeded Phoenix hitting the lead briefly, as George hit back with 20 third-quarter points.

George became the first player in Clippers history to record 40-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in a postseason game, while also becoming the first player in NBA history to have 40-plus points on at least 75 per cent field-goal shooting, 50 per cent three-point shooting and 100 free-throw shooting in a playoff contest.

HE is also the third player since the 1996-97 since to score 30-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in the second half of a postseason game, joining Anthony Davis (2020) and Dwyane Wade (2010).

George has been criticised in the past and has missed some key free-throws against the Suns, but he has been the Clippers' top scorer in all five games this series in the absence of Kawhi Leonard (knee), while he led all three categories – points, rebounds and assists, for the second successive game for the fourth seeds.

"I just don't understand why it's magnified so much when he has a bad game, when he doesn't play well," Lue said during his post-game news conference.

"A lot of people play bad. Like I said, I'm just happy he came back, played a great game, we needed every bit of it."

George has put up at least 20 points in all 18 games he has played this season. The only other players in NBA history to have at least 20 points in their first 18 games of a single playoff campaign are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

Lue added: "That's what great players do. You always bounce back, if you have a rough game.

"Our team needed it… We fed off Marcus' [Morris Snr] momentum in the first half. Every time they made a run, we responded."

The Clippers have already come from behind to win two series this postseason, triumphing 4-3 over the Dallas Mavericks after trailing 2-0, while they won four straight games against the top-seeded Utah Jazz, having been down 2-0.

Lue and the Clippers would need to win three straight games to overcome the Suns, having trailed 3-1 but they can level the series in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

A championship-winning coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lue moved to a 10-2 coaching record when his side is facing elimination, but preferred to focus on his players who he labelled "resilient".

"It's been all season long," Lue said. "Guys have been out, different guys are stepping up and playing well.

"I keep saying the same word resilient but this group is. We got a gritty win without three starters, we gotta do it again two more times."

He added: "It is fun. I was just talking to our team about not winning three games but winning each quarter. The journey is too long if you think about three games, six days. I thought our guys came out with that mindset, we won three of four quarters."

Paul George posted a playoff career-high 41 points as the Los Angeles Clippers avoided elimination with a 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

George flexed his muscles away from home on Monday and in the absence of star team-mate Kawhi Leonard, scoring 30 second-half points to keep the series alive against the second-seeded Suns.

The win means the Clippers, who have come from behind to triumph in their past two playoffs series, trail the Suns 3-2 in the matchup ahead of Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

George and the Clippers had led at half-time for the first time in the series, up 59-52, but the Suns earned a 62-61 lead before the visitors launched a 10-0 run and never looked back.

Clippers star George entered the must-win game as the fourth player in NBA history to score 20-plus points in each of his first 17 games of a single postseason, joining Michael Jordan (1991, 1992, 1997, 1998), Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012 and 2018).

George also had 13 rebounds and six assists, dominating for the fourth-seeded Clippers, who were without injured pair Leonard and Ivica Zubac.

The Clippers continued their resilient playoff campaign, having trailed 2-0 against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round before winning 4-3, while they won four games in a row against the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semi-finals, having fallen 2-0 behind.

The Suns refused to surrender, with Devin Booker scoring 31 points and Chris Paul contributing 22 of his own, but the Clippers always had an answer to silence the home crowd.

George, who shot 15-from-20 from the field for the game, had good support from Reggie Jackson (23 points, including four three-pointers), while Marcus Morris Sr. finished with 22 points after scoring 20 in the first half.

The Clippers dominated with 34-8 first-half points in the paint and 58-32 for the game.

Suns center Deandre Ayton could not capitalise on Zubac's absence, only managing 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Paul missed all six three-point attempts for Phoenix, while he had eight assists.

 

Bucks at Hawks

The Milwaukee Bucks can claim a 3-1 lead over the Atlanta Hawks when they visit State Farm Arena for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

We could soon know who will be fighting it out for the NBA title, with both Conference Finals in danger of being decided emphatically.

The Phoenix Suns have surged into a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, while title favourites the Milwaukee Bucks have recovered from a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks to lead 2-1.

The coming week will decide who will face off for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and, in this edition of Heat Check, Stats Perform looks at which players are on form heading into the decisive matchups, as well as those who need to step up.


RUNNING HOT

Reggie Jackson - Los Angeles Clippers

With Kawhi Leonard showing no sign of making a return from a knee injury that has kept him out for the past six games, the Clippers need players to improve if they are to save their season.

Los Angeles face an elimination game on Monday in the Western Conference Finals, but they can take heart from what Jackson has done in Leonard's absence.

Jackson has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games, including a 27-point performance in the Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz.

He averaged 20.67 points per game last week, exactly 10 points more than he did in the regular season. The Clippers must have another big effort from him in Game 5.

Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns

Ayton enjoyed one of the defining moments of these playoffs with his game-winning alley-oop in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. He is blossoming into the star center the Suns thought they were getting when Phoenix selected him first overall in 2018.

His dramatic final basket in the second game capped a superb performance in which he produced 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Not content with just one double-double, Ayton produced another in Game 4, putting up 19 points and tallying 22 rebounds.

Over the course of the three matchups last week, Ayton recorded 20.33 points and 15 rebounds per game, both significant increases on his averages of 14.15 points and 10.54 rebounds in the regular season. No wonder Ayton has received such effusive praise from team-mate Chris Paul.

Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks' hopes of upsetting the odds once more against the Bucks hang in the balance with star point guard Trae Young having been diagnosed with a bone bruise, making him questionable for Game 4.

If he is ruled out, it will be a great shame as Young has played phenomenally in the playoffs, including making a superb start to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He began the series last week by scoring an astonishing 48 points as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

Young was held to 15 in Game 2 but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

GOING COLD...

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Atlanta Hawks

Young's presence is even more important given one of Atlanta's secondary scoring threats is having to fight through a knee injury.

Bogdanovic has continued to battle knee soreness and the impact on his play has been obvious.

He averaged over 16 points a game in the regular season, but has put up only 6.67 so far in this series.

The Hawks may need him to produce more amid the pain to improve their odds of stunning the Bucks.

Clint Capela - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks also haven't quite got the desired production they desire from center Capela.

That may be a slightly unfair statement given that Capela has tallied double-digit rebounds in two of the three games in the series, including a double-double in the Hawks' opening win.

Yet in terms of putting up points, his output has disappointed in comparison with his regular-season numbers. Tallies of 12, two and eight give him a per-game average of 7.33 that is in stark contrast to the 15.17 he delivered in helping the Hawks clinch the fifth seed in the East.

In a series with a Bucks team whose leading lights are firing on all cylinders, that isn't going to cut it.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

With the Clippers competing in a place in their first Finals without Leonard, it is a bad time for George to go cold from deep.

Having made 3.17 threes per game in the regular season, George was off the mark from beyond the arc in three games against the Suns last week.

He made an average of 1.67 threes per game, hitting on one triple in two contests, including the Game 4 loss that has put the Clippers on the brink of elimination.

George simply must rediscover his aim to keep their season alive.

If the Los Angeles Clippers are to fend off elimination, they will have to do so without injured star Kawhi Leonard in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final.

The Clippers trail the second-seeded Phoenix Suns 3-1 in the NBA playoffs and Leonard remains sidelined due to a sprained right knee heading into Monday's must-win showdown.

Leonard has endured an injury-hit postseason, having not played since Game 4 of the Conference semi-finals against the top-ranked Utah Jazz.

In this season's playoffs, two-time NBA champion Leonard has been averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the fourth-seeded Clippers.

The Suns can advance to the NBA Finals with victory at home to the Clippers, who were beaten 84-80 in Game 4.

"Just taking it one game at a time," Clippers head coach Tryonn Lue told reporters on Sunday. "You can't focus on winning three. You have to focus on winning one. It starts quarter by quarter, especially playing on the road right now in Game 5.

"You have to take it quarter by quarter and try to win each quarter. That's got to be your mindset. You can't think about three games and four or five, six days from now. You have to think about tomorrow and just winning quarter by quarter. I think that's the mindset that I've got to make sure our team has going into the game tomorrow."

Tyronn Lue is confident the Los Angeles Clippers can turn around their 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals with the Phoenix Suns, describing the challenge as "very doable".

The Clippers fell to an 84-80 loss to the Suns on Saturday, leaving Los Angeles needing to win three straight games to progress to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

In Conference Finals, teams that have led 3-1 have gone on to win a seven-game series 52 times, with that advantage reversed on just four occasions.

Falling 3-1 behind is typically a death knell for a team in any round, with teams that have claimed 3-1 leads in best-of-seven series winning 95 per cent of the time (251-13).

But Lue has experience of coming from 3-1 down to prevail, having done so as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers when they incredibly overturned that deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

The Warriors did not surrender the same lead in 2017, avenging that loss with a 4-1 Finals win over the Cavs.

Drawing inspiration from the Clippers coming from 2-0 down against the Utah Jazz in the previous round, Lue stated his belief in his team to overcome the odds.

"We beat Utah and won four games in a row," Lue said. "So it's very doable."

 

The Clippers' hopes of fighting back would be significantly boosted were Kawhi Leonard to return from a knee sprain that has seen him miss the final two games of the Jazz series and all four games with Phoenix so far.

But Paul George, who had a double-double with 23 rebounds and 16 rebounds in Game 3, does not want Leonard to rush back regardless of the Clippers' perilous situation.

"I can't speak for him, to the health of Kawhi," George said. "If he's not 100 [per cent], we don't want him out there. I mean, that's just as a brother, as a team-mate.

"His health long term is more important than what's going on now. I can't speak on the extent of his injury or, you know, what he [can] and cannot give us.

"Like I've been saying, his health is just more important than anything else."

Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul is refusing to talk about a drought-breaking NBA Finals appearance despite his side taking a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference finals on Saturday.

The Suns won 84-80 over the Los Angeles Clippers to move within one victory of the franchise's first Finals appearance since 1993.

Paul, 36, debuted in the NBA in 2005 and is an 11-time All Star yet has never played in an NBA Finals series either.

"Not til the job is done. We can talk about all that then but right now it's laser focus," Paul said during the post-game news conference.

"Three wins don’t win a series. We did what we came to do. We got one of these [road wins]. We've got to stay focused. We need one more [win]."

Paul has played in 12 NBA playoffs series, coming closest to the NBA Finals in 2017-18 Conference finals with the Houston Rockets having been 3-2 up.

When asked about previously falling short, Paul added: "Everything happens for a reason. Don't dwell on things. I'm here now, excited about this opportunity. All I can worry about right now is Game 5."

Paul finished with 18 points but hit several last-quarter free-throws to ice the game after Devin Booker fouled out.

"It was crazy when I went to the free-throw line, I thought about my son," he said. "I talk to my son all the time about the importance of shooting free-throws. He's really getting into basketball.

"I seriously went to the free-throw line, I thought 'how the hell am I going to tell him to stay poised, if I don't'."

Paul, who missed both Game 1 and 2 after entering into the NBA's health and safety protocol, said he was excited to play at home for the first time in the series on Monday.

"I didn’t get a chance to feel that energy in Game 1 and 2," he said. "I was at the crib with my family. I'm excited to go back to Phoenix."

The Phoenix Suns have claimed a hard-fought road win to go 3-1 up in the Western Conference finals with an 84-80 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

DeAndre Ayton was dominant in the paint with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks as the Suns triumphed, leading the whole way but having to withstand a late Clippers challenge.

Devin Booker, who took his protective face mask off in the second half, led all scorers for Phoenix with 25 points but fouled out with 1:05 to go, leaving veteran guard Chris Paul (18 points and seven assists) to finish the job with a series of late free throws.

The Clippers, once again without the injured Kawhi Leonard, got within one point in the final quarter, including with 13.2 seconds to go, but never took the lead.

The result means Phoenix are one win away from qualifying for their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. It would also be the first Finals appearance for 11-time All-Star Paul.

Phoenix had led by 14 points at half-time, but the Clippers stormed back into the game with a 30-19 third quarter.

Paul George fought hard for the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, while Reggie Jackson scored 20 points. Ivica Zubac was admirable with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

But the Clippers struggled from beyond the arc, shooting five from 31 (16.1 per cent), with Jackson hitting two-of-nine from three-point range, while George made one-from-nine.

The Suns did not fare much better from range, with Booker missing all five three-point attempts and Paul all three.

Phoenix's 84 points was the fewest in a win this season, regular or postseason.

The series returns to Phoenix on Monday, with the Suns chasing a close-out win.

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