LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Paul George scored 41 points as the Los Angeles Clippers kept their NBA Western Conference finals series alive with a battling 116-102 road victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday.
With the Suns poised to clinch a series victory in front of an expectant home crowd, George once again put the Clippers on his back to stave off elimination from the postseason.
The Clippers talisman exploded for 20 points alone in the third quarter to take the game away from Phoenix, who took a fleeting lead midway through the period with a Chris Paul jump shot.
It was the only time Phoenix held the lead throughout game five, and the Clippers can now level the series at 3-3 with a victory in game six in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
The win marked the third time during these playoffs that the Clippers have won an elimination game, and Monday’s win came without several starters including the injured Kawhi Leonard.
“All season long we’ve been down guys, guys have been out, different guys have been stepping up and playing well,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
George, who has stepped up as de facto team leader in the absence of the injured Kawhi Leonard, was in commanding form once more on Monday after a quiet first half performance.
The Clippers star went 15-of-20 from the floor with three three-pointers, 13 rebounds and six assists.
Phoenix meanwhile were led by Devin Booker with 31 points while veteran Paul had 22 points. Cameron Johnson added 14 points.
The Clippers got off to a first start, opening up a 10-point lead at 36-26 after the first quarter and leading 59-52 at half-time.
But Paul’s jump shot to give Phoenix their first lead of the night at 62-61 in the third quarter was the catalyst for George to take over.
The 31-year-old seven-time All-Star erupted for 18 points over the remainder of the period, quickly restoring a double-digit lead for Los Angeles which ultimately proved decisive.
Although Phoenix rallied in the fourth to get within five points, back-to-back three-pointers from Jackson helped the Clippers pull clear and close out the win.
“They came out and punched us in the face at the start of the game,” Suns ace Booker said. “We need to be locked in from the beginning to end.”
Phoenix coach Monty Williams meanwhile said the Clippers had played with “desperation.”
“It was pretty obvious that we can’t play with a ‘show up’ mentality,” Williams said. “We showed up in the first quarter — and they played with desperation.
“The desperation has to be there. You can’t just show up and expect them to give it to you.”