Clippers hold onto momentum to beat Suns

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The LA Clippers took down the Phoenix Suns, 105-92, to clinch the Pacific Division and a playoff berth in a game they led by 37 points.

PHOENIX — The Clippers forged 37-point lead Tuesday night, but they had to hold off the Phoenix Suns’ furious comeback for a 105-92 victory at Footprint Center.

Playing without Kawhi Leonard and James Harden, Paul George led LA with 23 points while center Ivica Zubac posted 17 points and 13 rebounds. All five Clippers starters scored in double figures.

“Our will to win was great,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We came out with a defensive mindset, we were really physical, offensively we were clicking. This is a hell of a win against a really good team.”

Turning point: The Suns pulled to within 93-84 with 6:08 to play. George scored six points over the next three minutes as the Clippers raised their lead back to 13.

 LA led 66-33 at the half as the Suns shot 28.3% from the field and 11% from 3-pointers.

At one point in the first quarter, the Clippers led 35-4 with some help from the bench. LA hopped out on a 17-2 lead in the first four minutes of the game.

What it means: With Tuesday’s win, the Clippers (51-28) also won the Pacific Division for the third time in franchise history. The team is riding their fourth-straight win after claiming the last seven of eight matchups. LA remains the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference standings and pushed Phoenix to seventh in the West.

Hits: Lue used only eight players Tuesday night with a shorthanded roster. Although PJ Tucker has been receiving some minutes in the absence of Leonard, it was Bones Hyland who joined the rotation. His shooting faltered, but he dominated the glass, collecting nine rebounds in 17 minutes.

Misses: LA was missing starters Leonard (knee) and Harden (foot). Without a timetable on Leonard’s return still, Lue said he is hoping for the best outcome.

“We’ve got to be smart,” Lue said. “We talk about being 100% going into the playoffs or close to 100% as you can be.”

It was Leonard’s fifth straight missed game.

Stat of the game: Russell Westbrook had a monumental outing in his first start start since November. He finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists for his first triple-double of the season and 199th of his career.

Westbrook hit the triple-double in the first half. His rebounding, especially in the final quarter, was massive for the Clippers who fed off of his energy.

“No surprise on my end because I know I prepare very well,” Westbrook said. “I take a lot of time to prepare for games, no matter how much time on the floor. I’m grateful for my teammates, believing in me.”

Up next: The Clippers and Phoenix have back-to-back games and will see each other again on Thursday night at Arena.