PHOENIX (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 38 points, including a pair of late 3-pointers, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 115-110 in the opener of their Western Conference playoff series on Sunday.
Eric Gordon added 19 points and hit a late 3 that kept the Clippers ahead. Russell Westbrook shot just 3 of 19 from the floor for Los Angeles but made a pair of free throws with 17.7 seconds left for a three-point lead, then blocked Devin Booker’s layup attempt at the other end and swatted the ball off Booker to give the Clippers the ball with 10.1 seconds remaining.
Kevin Durant scored 27 points for the Suns, who lost for the first time with him on the floor. Phoenix acquired the two-time NBA Finals MVP from Brooklyn in February and injuries limited him to eight games — all Suns wins.
Devin Booker added 26 points for Phoenix, which will try to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole at home on Tuesday.
The Suns trailed 109-103 with 1:33 remaining but scored the next five points. The Clippers grabbed multiple offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession before Westbrook made his critical free throws. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals.
Los Angeles led for much of the evening until midway through the third quarter. Torrey Craig made back-to-back buckets, including one on a powerful fast-break dunk, to push Phoenix ahead 70-68.
It was part of a 15-0 run that put the Suns up 77-68. The Clippers, led by Leonard’s 12 points in the third, recovered to tie the game at 81-all heading into the fourth.
Leonard — a two-time Finals MVP playing his first playoff game since June 14, 2021 — did much of his damage from the mid-range, but moved behind the 3-point arc in the game’s late moments. He hit a 3 with 2:36 left and another at the 2-minute mark, finishing 13 of 24 shooting from the field.
The Clippers were missing one of their best players in eight-time All-Star Paul George. He sprained his right knee last month and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play in this series.
Gordon scored 12 points as the Clippers jumped to a 30-18 lead after one quarter. The Suns shot just 31.8% from the field in the first quarter and Durant was held scoreless.
Durant missed his first five shots from the field before finally connecting on a mid-range jumper early in the second quarter. That seemed to shake the nerves and the 34-year-old poured in 17 points before the break, helping cut the Clippers’ lead to 59-54.
Clippers: George hasn’t played since March 21. … Ivica Zubac had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.
Suns: G Cam Payne (low back soreness) was not available. He was hurt in the next-to-last game of the regular season. … Were playing their first home playoff game since a 33-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of last year’s Western Conference semifinals.
David Brandt, The Associated Press