It’s been said all season long: When the Suns rebound, defend and knock down shots they’re as lethal as any team in the NBA. After a mediocre first half, the Suns rallied together and mastered those three things en route to a 127-101 win over the Clippers in the Staples Center, a week after defeating them in Phoenix.
The Suns out-rebounded the Clippers by 20 (50-30), held them to 43 second-half points and stroked 12-of-23 threes on their way to their 13th win in the last 16 games. Yes, this is the 25-36 Los Angeles Clippers we’re talking about, but they were 10th in the league in boards per game during the month of February and allowed only 40.5 rebounds to their opponents during that stretch.
But for the second time in the last week, the Suns handled the Clippers to sweep the season series versus the lesser of the LA teams.
Phoenix’s success didn’t come instantly tonight, aside from Amare Stoudemire. STAT exploded for 15 first-quarter points, carrying the Suns to a 30-26 lead after one.
But Chris Kaman led the Clippers back, as he scored 12 second-quarter points (and 18 first-half points) to help LA to a 58-57 lead heading into the locker room. Kaman was dominating the paint, showing an array of post moves that Suns defenders simply couldn’t keep up with.
Eric Gordon also added 14 first-half points, and the Clippers ended the first half shooting 50 percent from the field. But the Suns, as they have done so well over the last month or so, came out of the locker room with a vengeance, snatching the lead from the Clippers by way of a 15-3 run. From that point on, the Clippers never had even a glimmer of hope.
After pasting 39 third-quarter points on LA, and limiting them to only 18 points on the defensive end, the Suns led by as many as 20 points while shooting an absurd 76.5 percent from the field during the quarter.
“When we shoot the ball well, we’re pretty good,” Alvin Gentry told The Arizona Republic.
The fourth quarter was much of the same, as Channing Frye and company nailed three after three. Frye, who finished with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting from distance, knocked down four threes in 2:37 of the fourth quarter, helping the Suns to a 29-point lead. Even Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin got in on the action, combining for eight points, including Griffin’s third hoop as a Sun.
Tonight’s game was the definition of a team effort. The bench combined for 56 points, the Suns had five players with 16 or more, and they totaled a ridiculous 36 assists on the night (and only 10 turnovers) while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. The Suns were equally as effective defensively, holding the Clippers to 45.9 percent shooting from the field, including 7-of-19 shooting (36.8 percent) in the third quarter.
Amare was his usual beastly self, scoring 30 points and hauling in 14 rebounds in only 29 minutes. But that comes as no surprise, as Stoudemire is averaging 30 points and 12 rebounds in his last three games and has only failed to top the 20-point plateau twice in the last 16 games. Tonight was Amare’s sixth 30-point scoring output during the Suns’ last 16 games, in which they are 13-3. You think he’s important to their success?
Jason Richardson also poured in 22, Grant Hill added 16 and Jared Dudley was lethal all game long, scoring 17 points on only six shots in going 4-of-6 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line. Lou Amundson also pitched in with an impressive 11 rebounds in only 19 minutes of action.
Steve Nash finished with only two points, but added 13 assists in 27 minutes. Nash has now totaled 10 or more assists in 16 of his past 17 games. Although he’s failed to reach double-digit points twice in the last four games, I doubt the Suns can complain.
But the most impressive stat was the Suns’ rebounding advantage. Phoenix, once again, cleared the glass like a team that has been doing so for years. To limit any team to 30 boards, Clippers or no Clippers, is big time. And then add in that the Suns snagged 50 of their own and the board-work becomes even more impressive.
The team is playing its best basketball of the season and doing so in a way that will translate extremely well to the playoffs. The Suns were clicking on all cylinders in the second half and took care of business tonight. They now sit in fifth place in the Western Conference and can take over fourth place with a win tomorrow night over the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz are 14-14 on the road, and the Suns have a chance to make a statement to the Western Conference that they are not just on another classic Phoenix Suns hot streak. If this team can win by playing defense and rebounding, the sky is the limit.
One of the few negatives of the night was the injury to Goran Dragic. Dragic sprained his right ankle with about three minutes left in the game and most likely won’t be able to go tomorrow night against the Jazz. Without Leandro Barbosa and Dragic, expect Grant Hill to see some time at point.