NBA Playoffs: Kawhi Leonard fuels Clippers to Game 1 win against Phoenix

The playoffs are in full swing for the National Basketball Association, and on a hot Sunday evening in the desert, the Los Angeles Clippers faced the Phoenix Suns on their home turf inside the Footprint Center. Despite the odds, the Clippers came out with the 115-110 win.

Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: NBA Playoffs: Clippers prepared for battle in first-round series against Phoenix

Ahead of Game 1 of the Clippers-Suns playoff series, it was announced Paul George remained out for the Clippers and Cameron Payne was ruled out for the Suns.

To exemplify just how much it's changed since the 2019 Western Conference Finals between the two teams, Suns’ head coach Monty Williams pointed out Payne was a crucial part of the Suns starting lineup in 2019.

Before the game, Clippers' head coach Ty Lue said he was feeling good and the team was feeling confident. 

Los Angeles, considered the underdogs, kept their composure and had a strong start despite the "Beat LA" chants constantly heard in the thunderous sea of purple and orange.

This was welcome news for Clipper Nation. Throughout the season, the Clippers have struggled early with cold starts they often had to dig themselves out of to produce a win.

Now, it’s the playoffs where there’s added pressure and anything goes.

First Quarter

It was a solid start for Clippers' shooting guard Eric Gordon, as he scored the first shot of the series. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was given the Suns’ first foul early while blocking a Kawhi Leonard dunk.

As expected, the Suns double-teamed Leonard, but the Clippers are all about the "Next Man Up," mentality. With Leonard locked up, Gordon fueled the Clippers to an early lead.

Lue masterfully switched up the rotations, throwing in Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Mason Plumlee, and Bones Hyland in the first quarter. 

Gordon ended the first quarter with 12 points, with Devin Booker and Torrey Craig tied at 6 points apiece.

The Clippers ended the first quarter up 30-18.

Second Quarter

In the second quarter, it became very apparent how dangerous it becomes for the Clippers with its best player double-teamed, while other players struggled to score.

 Eric Gordon #10 of the LA Clippers lays up a shot past Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The Suns got into a better rhythm propelled by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

Point leaders at the half:

  • Durant: 17
  • Booker: 16
  • Gordon: 14
  • Leonard: 13

Third Quarter

For Clipper Nation, the third quarter was a perfect example of why the team is sometimes referred to as the "Cardiac Clips," with its twists and turns, throwing fans into a frenzy.

It’s at this point of the game that it turned ugly for Los Angeles. The Clippers were plagued by turnovers and had no answer for the Suns' star power. 

Craig tied the game 66-66 with a dunk to a roar of applause. The Suns went on a tear and held onto the lead.

The Clippers returned to their scrappy roots, with Playoff Kawhi, and fought their way through the final minutes. They managed to close out the quarter tied at 81.

Fourth Quarter 

Forget about the popcorn. This is what playoff basketball is all about with fans on both sides at the edges of their seats for the entire quarter.

The two teams went back and forth, and it was a one-point game with 3:07 on the clock, with the Clippers up 99-100.

Russell Westbrook came in clutch after he was fouled by Devin Booker with less than 25 seconds left. With the hometown crowd rooting as loud as they could against him, Westbrook made both free throws.

With 17.7 seconds on the clock, the Clippers were up 111-108 and ended the game by winning 115-110.

Points leaders:

  • Leonard: 38 points
  • Durant: 27 points

Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, at 7 p.m.