Suns 106, Clippers 98 – Easing up on the pedal

Despite leading big all game, the Suns never put the game out of reach. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Despite leading big all game, a knockout punch was out of reach for Amare and Co. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Clippers were missing starting point guard Baron Davis, starting forward Zach Randolph and big man Chris Kaman, and it showed in the first quarter, which the Suns won by a 33-15 margin, their best first quarter of the season.

Then they played the rest of the game as if they had won it in the first quarter, resulting in no more quarter wins and an eventual victory by a margin of only 106-98.

The Suns turned the ball over just once in that opening stanza, but finished with 14 for the game as things got sloppy.

Except for three minutes of Lou Amundson for Shaq, the starters were responsible for the entirety of the first-quarter burst.

Nash directed the offense seamlessly, and the Suns frankly looked like a different team than the sloppy club that lacked any flow in the first quarter Tuesday against Memphis with Nash sitting out with back spasms.

His numbers may be down, but don’t let Bill Simmons convince you he’s not still one of the best point guards in the NBA at running an offense.

If it weren’t for Marcus Camby and his eventual 19 points and 23 rebounds, the Clippers’ hole would have been even more insurmountable, but as it was the Suns just weren’t the same team in the final three quarters as they were in the first.

“Those are the worst type teams to play – the ones that aren’t doing very well,” Shaq told Suns.com. “We came out like we were supposed to, but we kind of played down to the level of our opponent. But we got away with the win and we have four days off to get re-focused.”

Added head coach Terry Porter to Suns.com, “I’m happy about the win, but obviously disappointed about the way we closed that game out. We started great in the first quarter, lost the last three quarters and really just thought they were going to fold their tents after that. We just didn’t play smart for a stretch of that game.”

It can’t be understated how tough it is to keep that mental edge in a game like this.

The Clippers came in with an 8-23 record, were missing three of their top players and then came out and were outscored by 18 points in the first quarter.

Although the Suns outwardly were playing hard, there’s just something about a situation like that that makes a team lose its mental edge, commit some stupid turnovers, not close out on shooters as well and just overall play some sloppy basketball.

Memphis assistant coach and former UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill refers to this as playing “fake hard,” which means a team is “going through the motions of playing hard but not executing.”

O’Neill used those words to describe his Wildcats’ disheartening loss to ASU in McKale Center last season, but he may as well have been talking about the Suns Friday night against the Clippers.

At least the Suns played well enough in the first quarter that they still came out with a relatively easy victory, even if it was tougher than it should have been.

The eighth man

Well, not everybody was playing fake hard.

Sweet Lou Amundson still did his usual thing, scoring nine points and grabbing five boards (four offensive) in 20 minutes of work.

“When I’m given the chance to get out there, I’m going to do all that I can to be aggressive and change the game a little bit by bringing energy,” Amundson told Suns.com. “I did that tonight.”

The guy is always moving and always around the ball. If only he didn’t shoot free throws like the Shaq of yesteryear (1-for-6 against the Clips).

The Suns’ bench as a whole played well with Leandro Barbosa pouring in 12 points, five boards and four assists in 23 minutes and Matt Barnes going for eight points and four boards, but that’s to be expected.

This kind of production wasn’t expected out of Amundson, who I wrote never should play in a game yet to be decided in my recap of the second game of the season (little did I know Sweet Lou had the potential to be this impactful of a player).

At this point he has leapfrogged first-round pick Robin Lopez in the first big off the bench role, and he deserves it.

Amundson makes something happen whenever he’s on the floor and creates extra possessions with his offensive rebounding prowess. Lopez, on the other hand, provides more of a shot-blocking presence, but he can’t rebound and his one-on-one defense is very overrated.

It’s kind of funny that touted rookies Lopez and Goran Dragic are deservedly being chained to the bench as Porter settles into an eight-man rotation, treatment of rookies that essentially got Mike D’Antoni a one-way ticket to New York, but you can’t fault the coach at all for playing players who deserve to play and sitting players who deserve to sit.

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