The Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, has emerged as one of the league’s best centers this season (306065)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Los Angeles Clippers have fought back from series deficits the entire postseason. They were down 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, losing the opening two games at home before coming back for a 4-3 win. Versus the Utah Jazz in their Western Conference semifinals matchup, the Clippers trailed 2-0 then took four straight.

Late in the fourth quarter in Game 4 of the series, Kawhi Leonard, who may have been playing better than anyone in the league during the playoffs, injured his right knee. The Clippers have been without him since. But they keep finding a way to move forward. On Monday, they defeated the Phoenix Suns on the road by 116-102 to fight off elimination and go into last night’s Game 6 of the conference finals back home at the Staples Center down 3-2.

Along with Leonard, Clippers starting center Ivica Zubac missed his first game in the past two seasons due to an MCL sprain of his right knee. Yet on the strength of Paul George’s exceptional all-around effort, the Clippers extended the series. George’s 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, all team highs, carried the Clippers. Guard Reggie Jackson, who has had an outstanding postseason for the Clippers, added 23 and forward Marcus Morris had a key contribution with 22.

“If they were going to finish this series, they were going to have to work for it,” said George of the Suns. “That’s just the mentality we had. We weren’t going to back down. We weren’t going to throw in the towel.”

“I love those guys,” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue. “They compete every single night no matter who is on the floor.” Morris, who only had four points on 2-8 shooting in Game 4, scored 20 of his points in the first half.

“We came into a hostile environment and got a gritty win,” noted Lue. Although the Suns’ dynamic backcourt of Devin Booker (31 points) and Chris Paul (22 ) combined to score 53 points, they only shot 17-41. Booker, Paul and the Suns’ third-year center Deandre Ayton have formed arguably the most potent trio this postseason.

Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, has been a force in the paint on both ends of the court. In 15 games he’s averaged 16.2 points on a remarkable 70% shooting and 11.4 rebounds.

Game 7, if necessary, will be in Phoenix tomorrow night.