Paul George of the Clippers drives against Phoenix center Deandre Ayton during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals in Los Angeles. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

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 because of 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, George 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 gave them a 71-56 lead in the third. Terance Mann got it going with six straight points and Jackson scored four in a row before George scored inside. 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 quarter 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, and also got fouled and made the free throw. Marcus Morris hit a 3 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.

NOTES

PACERS: Rick Carlisle is returning to Indiana to coach the Pacers after deciding his time leading Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks was over.

Carlisle confirmed to The Associated Press that he has agreed to return to the club he coached for four seasons from 2003-07. He led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals his first season. Carlisle, 61, decided to leave the Mavericks last week, a day after general manager Donnie Nelson left the club. Dallas owner Mark Cuban said it was Carlisle’s decision to leave.

Carlisle played at the University of Maine before transferring to Virginia and playing with Ralph Sampson. After a decade as an assistant coach in the NBA, Carlisle’s first head coaching job was with Detroit in 2001. He spent two seasons with the Pistons, leaving after leading them to the East finals in 2003.

Carlisle will be the Pacers’ third coach in less than 12 months. Nate McMillan was fired in August after four consecutive first-round playoff exits. McMillan’s replacement, Nate Bjorkgren, was fired after one tumultuous season.

The Pacers are betting Carlisle will bring stability to a veteran team that was eliminated in the play-in round, ending a streak of five consecutive playoff appearances. Carlisle is 836-689 overall with the Pacers, Pistons and Mavs. He spent the last 13 seasons in Dallas, going 555-478 and winning the franchise’s only NBA title in 2011. With Indiana, Carlisle went 181-147 in four seasons.

What they’re getting in Carlisle is something they didn’t have in Bjorkgren – a coach with a long track record. The question will be how he fits in?

Players told Pritchard in exit interviews they thought Bjorkgren was a micromanager and it led to problems privately and publicly, such as a shouting match between backup center Goga Bitadze and assistant coach Greg Foster.

In Dallas, there were similar complaints – and results – about Carlisle. While he led the Mavericks to their only championship with superstar Dirk Nowitzki and is the winningest coach in franchise history, Carlisle didn’t win another playoff series in Dallas.

The Mavericks lost in the first round six times, including this year and last year to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first two postseason appearances for Doncic. There were occasional signs of tension between Carlisle and Doncic, including angry gestures toward the coach during games from the 22-year-old two-time All-Star.

Still, Cuban had said he expected Carlisle to return after another first-round exit. But after the departure of Nelson, who once called Carlisle “our Jerry Sloan,” it didn’t take Carlisle long to decide to move on as well.

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