PHOENIX (AP) — Kawhi Leonard had a great shooting night while Russell Westbrook had a horrible one.
Both players nonetheless had a huge impact for the Los Angeles Clippers in their 115-110 win over the Phoenix Suns in the teams’ Western Conference playoff series opener on Sunday.
Leonard poured in 38 points, including two late 3-pointers, while Westbrook was a menace everywhere except the scoring column. The veteran guard shot just 3 of 19 from the field, but finished with nine points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals.
“My whole career, I pride myself every season on doing everything,” Westbrook said. “Whatever is needed of me to win the game, I’ll do it.”
That’s exactly what happened in the final 30 seconds. Westbrook 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.
Eric Gordon added 19 points and hit a late 3 that kept the Clippers ahead.
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.
“Making winning plays, getting deflections on balls, offensive rebounding, getting us into our sets — that is playoff basketball,” Leonard said. “You might not have the best night shooting, but you’ve got to impact the game some type of way and he did that tonight.”
Los Angeles led for much of the game 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, part of a 15-0 run that concluded with a 77-68 Suns lead.
The Clippers, led by Leonard’s 12 points in the third, recovered to tie the game at 81-all heading into the fourth.
“They’re going to make a run at home, we understood that,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We built a lead, they made a run, and now we’ve got to keep our composure and be ready to fight back. I thought everyone who played tonight was great.”
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.
“We definitely would like to have better starts but sometimes that happens,” Durant said. “It is all about how you bounce back from it.”
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.
The Suns had their six-game winning streak in playoff Game 1s snapped.
“We understand it is not going to be easy,” Booker said. “It gets harder from here. Thinking back to my first (playoffs), every loss is the worst thing ever and every win you are going to win the rest of them. That’s just how the playoffs go.”
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.
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