LOS ANGELES: Paul George scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away in a dominant third quarter, beating newly returned Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns 106-92 on Thursday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers cut their series deficit to 2-1, ending the Suns’ franchise-record playoff winning streak at nine games.
Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again. After missing two crucial free throws in a one-point loss in Game 2, Paul had 15 rebounds and eight assists and played a game-high 43 minutes. He made 6 of 7 free throws.
The Suns got Paul back after he missed the first two games while being sidelined since June 16 because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The former Clipper, who was booed heartily during intros, had 15 points and 12 assists, but was 5 of 19 from the field.
Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 18 points.
Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and tied his career playoff high with 16 rebounds.
Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center.
After Phoenix won the first two games by a combined seven points, the teams played a close first half. Then the Clippers went to work in front of their raucous, Thunder Stix-pounding fans.
They took control with the biggest run of the game, a 21-3 spurt that left them leading 71-56 in the third. Terance Mann got it going with six straight points and Jackson scored four in a row before George scored inside. Zubac dunked off George’s pass and made a pair of free throws. The Suns were limited to a 3-pointer by Paul.
Devin Booker picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 42-second span during the Clippers’ run. Booker — wearing a clear mask to protect his nose that required stitches after he and Patrick Beverley banged heads in Game 2 — was 5 of 21 from the field, making only one of seven 3-point tries, and finished with 15 points.
Jae Crowder, who assisted on Deandre Ayton’s winning dunk on Tuesday, fouled out with 4:51 remaining. He had nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
George capped the third by banking in a 3-pointer from just inside midcourt, and it beat the buzzer, stunning the fans and sending the Clippers into the fourth leading 80-69. He nearly bobbled the ball along the right sideline, with Booker and Cam Johnson pressuring, before getting the shot off.
Luke Kennard opened the fourth with a 3 from the right corner, getting fouled and making the free throw. Marcus Morris hit a three before George got fouled. He confidently made both, keeping the Clippers ahead 89-71.
Cameron Payne, who so ably filled in for Paul in the first two games, went down with a left ankle injury after playing four minutes and didn’t return.
Suns: Fell to 10-3 in the playoffs, losing for the first time since May 27 against the Lakers at Staples Center in Game 3 of the first round. ... Booker and Beverley were called for double technicals in the third. ... Paul and Booker each missed their first six shots of the game and were both 2 of 10 with seven points each in the first half.
Clippers: Zubac is the first Clipper with a double-double in the first half of a postseason game since DeAndre Jordan on April 30, 2017, against Utah. ... Longtime fan Billy Crystal sat courtside.