Things have gotten very interesting in the Western Conference Finals.
On the brink of elimination, the LA Clippers dug deep to earn an impressive Game 5 win to swing the series back to Los Angeles, as the pressure begins to mount for the visiting Phoenix Suns. LA has proven to be at its best with its back against the wall in these playoffs, as it moved to 3-0 when facing elimination after taking Game 5.
Can the Clippers keep it up to force a decisive Game 7? Or will the Suns rise to the challenge on the road once again.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in Game 6…
Matchup: No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs No. 4 LA Clippers
Series: Suns lead 3-2
Where to watch
Date: Wednesday, June 30
Time: 9:00 p.m ET (6:30 a.m IST)
TV: TNT (US), TSN 1/4 (Canada), Star Sports (India)
Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
What to watch for
Paul George's encore
After rough shooting outings in Games 3 and 4, George responded with the best scoring performance of his postseason career in Game 5.
As NBA.com's Scott Rafferty outlined, the spacing presented by LA's small-ball outfits gave George the space to operate in the half-court, which made way for such an epic scoring performance. George's confidence is rising with every big performance, and his Clippers teammates are rallying behind him, evidenced by the big nights across the board from DeMarcus Cousins to Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr.
MORE: How PG bounced back in Game 5
What might George have in store for Game 6? He continues to perform at a high level despite logging heavy minutes and taking on the majority of offensive duties in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, whose status for the series - and the remainder of the postseason - remains unknown.
Let's not forget that we're just two years removed from George being a finalist for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. That same player is more than capable of leading LA to a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, but it takes one win at a time.
A bounce back from Chris Paul
It hasn't been the most memorable series for the 16-year veteran.
After missing the first two games while in the league's health and safety protocols, Paul is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 assists but is doing so while shooting 31.7 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from 3-point range.
MORE: Paul, Suns lament missed opportunities in Game 5
In Game 5, the 36-year-old shot 8-for-19 from the field and missed all six of his 3-point attempts.
For the second time in his career, Paul is just one win away from the NBA Finals, but the last time he was this close, an injury kept him from influencing the outcome. With a chance to help lead this Suns team back to the Finals for the first time since 1993, Paul could be due for a big-time performance to get where he's never been before.
As alluded to above, the Clippers have now won three games when facing elimination in this postseason. In order to make it out of this round, they'll need to make it a perfect 5-0 in the face of elimination.
Lucky for LA, it is led by a coach in Tyronn Lue that is 10-2 all-time when facing elimination. That resilience is reflected throughout the roster.
Jackson, who scored 23 points (on 8-for-14 shooting) in Game 5, has stepped up in a major way for the Clippers all postseason. With Ivica Zubac sidelined, a hobbled Morris got going early before finishing with 22 points (on 9-for-16 shooting) while Cousins came off the bench to score a postseason career-best 15 points (on 7-for-12 shooting) in just under 12 minutes.
For perspective, Cousins has picked up 12 DNPs this postseason, but he's stayed ready.
The above are just a few examples of why this Clippers team is exactly the type of unit that could overcome a 3-1 series deficit. It won't be easy, but there are others like Patrick Beverley, Luke Kennard and Terance Mann that can step up in Game 6.
Pressure rising for Phoenix
As calm and cool as head coach Monty Williams remains on the sidelines, things have become undeniably tense for his team.
It's been five years since a 3-1 series lead has been blown in the Conference Finals, but the pressure shifts when the lower seed takes Game 5 knowing the series is set to shift back to their home floor. Now, a young Phoenix team is again set to face a resilient LA squad that is playing like it has nothing to lose.
It won't be easy, but in the first round, Phoenix closed out a series in six games on the road … in the Staples Center, courtesy of a legendary night from Devin Booker. The Suns will again lean on Booker while Jae Crowder is the only member on the roster that has advanced to the NBA Finals in his career.
Given the fact that anything can happen in a Game 7, don't be surprised if you see the Suns play with a sense of desperation as well. So long as they don't psyche themselves out, this team should be okay - they're battle-tested, well-led and mentally tough.
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