NBA playoffs: Suns stifle Clippers to take 3-1 lead in Western Conference finals

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 26: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers shoots under pressure from Devin Booker #1 and Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the first quarter in game four of the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center on June 26, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
The Clippers had nothing against the Suns defense. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

It wasn't pretty, but the Phoenix Suns are one game away from the NBA Finals.

The Suns defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 84-80 in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

The series hasn't exactly been a highlight reel overall, but the ugliness reached another level in Game 4, with both teams posting their lowest scoring output of the playoffs. The Clippers entered halftime down 50-36 thanks to a stifling Suns defense, but made it a game by outscoring Phoenix by 11 points in the third quarter.

The comeback continued into the fourth quarter, with the Clippers pushing the lead to one point at 71-70. And then, well, the team stopped scoring. It would make only one more field goal until the final minute, spending more than half the quarter down just one point. The Suns weren't much better, but they at least managed to score like a barely functioning NBA team.

The Clippers still had a chance in the final minute, but old friend Chris Paul prevented a comeback by making 5-of-6 free throws with the seconds ticking down.

Deandre Ayton posts 19 points, 22 rebounds

Devin Booker led the Suns in scoring with 25 points until he fouled out, but Deandre Ayton was the star of the show for Phoenix. The center dominated the paint, totaling 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks.

The Clippers, down their starting center in Serge Ibaka, just didn't have an answer for him:

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The series now heads back to Phoenix with the Clippers staring down a 3-1 series deficit. Erasing that lead isn't impossible (see: the Clippers' postseason last year), but it's the most dire position the Clippers have found themselves in a playoff run defined by comebacks.

Kawhi Leonard remains out with an ACL injury, and it's unclear if he'll be able to make it back during the playoffs at all. The Clippers are probably going to need to do this with what they currently have, and that won't be easy against a Phoenix team that has arguably been the most impressive team of the playoffs.

Still, if we've learned anything these NBA playoffs, it's that no one throws a counterpunch like the Clippers. Game 5 is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT on Monday.

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