Los Angeles Clippers 103, Phoenix Suns 86 — Snowball effect


Blake Griffin unleashed a monster dunk on Channing Frye to punctuate the Clippers' victory. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)Him

Blake Griffin unleashed a monster dunk on Channing Frye to punctuate the Clippers' victory. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Phoenix Suns had previously been able to frustrate Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin by using physical, rim-protecting defense to keep the athletic All-Star at bay. At least, it was enough to pull out two gritty victories against the Lob City Clips this season.

Griffin must’ve gotten tired of it.

The power forward scored 27 points on 13-of-19 shooting and led a late third-quarter streak that culminated in a ferocious, fourth-quarter dunk on Channing Frye and ultimately, in a 103-86 Clipper victory Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

In the end, despite decent rebounding and taking care of the ball, Phoenix’s 37.5 percent shooting for the game coupled with an emphatic burst from Griffin and crew doomed the Suns (25-26), who had a dinged-up roster and little room for error.

Aside from those skewed field goal shooting percentages, no statistical category stood out for the Clippers.

It was all about that little thing called momentum.

With a 64-60 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter, a subtle statistical run of 17-10 by Los Angeles through the next six minutes punched a large hole in the Suns’ sails. Eight of those Suns points were scored by Robin Lopez and that partially hid the sputtering of the second unit’s offense. Twelve of the Clippers’ points during that time were scored uncontested by Griffin or Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who finished the night with 15 points and 15 assists.

Even when Phoenix’s starters re-entered the game, it was already too late — the Clippers had found a groove, and from then on they carved up the Suns’ defense and in the final quarter scored 14 paint points en route to a 29-point fourth quarter on 61.9 percent shooting. Meanwhile, Steve Nash, possibly struggling with a stiff back that also bothered him against the Spurs, couldn’t get the Suns’ offense back into shape to keep up. Phoenix shot just 31.9 percent in the fourth to turn the final score into a blowout despite the first half and nine minutes being a back-and-forth affair.

The implosive end of the third that bled into fourth quarter were further examples of how much Phoenix has suffered this season when the bench unit struggles.

Such struggles have often been left on the court for the starters to sort out, and in this one that included an abysmal 14-point second quarter that began with the bench.

Magnifying those issues, the Suns also dearly missed — at the very least — the bodies of Grant Hill and Markieff Morris. Hill sat out his second game in a row with a tender knee while Morris remained sidelined to illness. Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez combined for 16 points and nine rebounds, but with Shannon Brown filling in for Hill in the starting lineup and having much quieter of a night than his 32 points from the prior San Antonio game, there wasn’t enough firepower to keep up with the Clippers.

Frye and Marcin Gortat kept pace with the frontcourt of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for a while, as both frontcourt duos had 23 first-half points with Los Angeles holding a 43-41 lead at the break.

Nash did his part in recording 15 assists by game’s end, but the point guard went 0-for-4 from the floor and finished with one point on a night his team could’ve used the scoring.

Add in Sebastian Telfair’s 0-for-5 shooting, zero points, zero assists and two turnovers, and it was a recipe for disaster.

About the only thing the Suns had going offensively was Gortat’s 23 points. Frye scored 16, but it came on a 6-for-15 shooting night, including an ugly 2-for-11 mark beyond the three-point arc.

The Suns have now have lost three of their past five, and though they’re all defeats at the hands of decent-to-stellar ball clubs, time is running out.

Injuries to Hill and potentially Nash could signal the end of a playoff push, although both the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz fell Wednesday evening as well, keeping the Suns two games back of those two clubs and the Houston Rockets. And with the Suns set to face the Jazz and Nuggets in the next four games — and once more after that, each — time isn’t yet out.

But at some point, games against the likes of the Clippers and the Spurs, who Phoenix also will see again, will have to be won.

Even if the likes of Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin have something to say about it.

  • neurotic steve nash fan

    didnt get to see the game tonight, but looking over the box score seems to tell the same old story. Nash plus 2 in 30 minutes. Telfair minus 17 in 14 min. Damn I miss Goran….. and Brooks. It seems the front office always underestimates the value of Steve’s backup.

    p.s. I think I miss good ole Marcus Banks too. Or maybe Im just losing my mind.

  • Carlos

    The game was lost when Nash left to the dressing room (in a close 2 point game) with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, when he came back in the fourth quarter the Suns were losing by 13 points.
    The same thing happened in the first quarter when Nash left the Suns were winning by 4 points, when he came back they were losing by 4 points.
    Enough said, the bench is the biggest reason the Suns won’t be in the playoffs, how can a team with the best (+-) starting 5 line-up can not make it to the playoffs….. duuuuh! they have the worst bench in the NBA playing when they have the lead.

  • Scott

    These Suns looked like the familiar waning Suns.

    The door to the playoffs is closing …

  • Scott

    @Carlos -

    Part of the problem is that Gentry all too often fails to mix starters and 2nd unit guys. He puts all his “best” players in the starting unit, and then consequently plays a 2nd unit where all too often no one is able to do anything, and so the team loses.

    That’s a coaching fault. Players can’t do much about it.

    Also, it’s not part of D’Antoni’s system. That’s Gentry’s system.

    @everyone -

    BTW, during the 4th quarter EJ was calling for Gentry to put Gortat and Lopez out on the floor together.

    He mentioned the idea several times, and expressed a belief that Gortat would be able to check Griffin, while Lopez manned the paint. IMO, this idea was especially valid once Frye garnered first 4 then 5 fouls.

    As I’ve said a zillion times, Frye would serve the team best as a stabilizing force and a scoring force for the 2nd unit. Start him at PF if you want, but make sure he’s got significant minutes at C with the 2nd unit. He’s firing mostly blanks with the starting unit, but I’m confident he’d score and open up the floor for the 2nd unit.

    I believe this team had enough talent this year to be successful and get into the playoffs. The coach just refused to use the players in the ways that best helped the team. He did the same thing last year.

  • Serek

    If Brown can score 32 points against one of the best defensive teams in the league, then apparently there is some talent. I agree that the problem is mixing the people up to have the right proportion of leadership, outside/inside scoring, as well as defensive and rebounding presence on the floor at all times.

  • Michael

    I tried screaming my heart out for the suns last night to give them some momentum. Nothing. They passed up too many open looks. Unselfishness is great in basketball… but to a certain extent. A lot of times I saw Michael Redd and jdud pump fake a three and try to get to the rim. The problem with that was they weren’t successful pump fakes. It gave the defenders enough time to close out on them, yet still stay in front to prevent dribble penetration. I wouldn’t put much more thought into this game though. They missed a lot of shots that they normally make. And having our best defender out hurt a lot more than anyone can imagine. Grant has that mid range shot that often gives phoenix a boost when the opposition is going on a little run. I’m hoping they get out of this funk next game.

  • Grover

    In defense of Gentry not mixing some starters in with the second unit last night, they were playing short one starter in Hill and one of their first reserves off the bench in Morris. Their rotations were bound to be screwed up. Add on top of that their biggest problem in giving starters a rest is Nash, and he’s banged up and old, so they couldn’t mask the problem by asking him to play heavier minutes for a couple games.

    I wouldn’t lay this loss at the coaching staffs feet. This roster doesn’t have much margin for error when their opponent is playing well, which the Clippers were starting mid way through the third. Losing Hill has more impact than most would think by looking at his season stats because of his 1:1 defense, his defensive rotations, his leadership, and experience plus what he does to the available rotations.

    My big worry right now is health. If Nash is tweaked and/or Hill sits out much longer, I don’t think there is any amount of team chemistry that can help this squad make the playoffs.

  • Scott

    @Grover -

    While I understand that Hill and Morris being absent created a squeeze, it didn’t have to result in a poor 2nd unit. Gentry could have worked his substitutions so that some 2nd unit players came in earlier and some starters stayed out longer. Instead, IIRC, in the Clippers game he made largely whole team subs.

    Right along, my point has been that Frye and Dudley have a familiarity with the system, skills, energy, and leadership qualities that could really help the 2nd unit. They should spend time with the 2nd unit whenever it is possible.

    Warrick and Redd can both play minutes with Nash. There’s no reason they have to be with the 2nd unit.

    Furthermore, as noted, it seems that Gortat and Lopez could play together. I bet Gortat can even hit spot-up corner 3s with regularity.

  • Tony

    @Scott,

    I don’t know where you’re getting this idea that it makes sense to play Gortat and Lopez together. That is, other than to try it just for its own sake.

    With the way the Suns play, which is to push the tempo and score in transition, how does playing Gortat and Lopez together help? Furthermore, I would assume you would have Gortat at the 4 and Lopez at C, but Gortat does not really have a consistent offensive game outside of the p&r. Nor is he a good mid-range shooter whom could provide spacing to post Lopez. Inevitably, the result of this is a clogged paint, a slower tempo, less points, and more losses.

    With that being said, I’m not saying that the combo couldn’t work, but rather, it won’t work in the Suns current system. Assuming Lopez is brought back next season and Nash is gone, only then would it make more sense to try a different offensive system, with maybe using a Gortat and Lopez combo. Until then, however, the potential for added rebounding and interior defense would be negated by the reduction in the team’s offensive efficiency and then some.

  • steve

    Marcin shoots over 40% from 10-20 feet. He’s not exactly Tim Duncan (who shoots around 40-48% from that range in any given year), but he’s still a threat to hit from 10-20. I don’t know where this myth that Gortat can’t shoot started, but he’s actually one of the better shooting bigs in the league.

  • Tony

    Oh yea right Steve, it’s just a “myth” that Gortat can’t shoot, just like it’s just a myth that Childress also can’t shoot right? Gortat is not even remotely close to Duncan in terms of mid-range jumper. He’s not a mid-range shooter at all. Furthermore, when you consider that under Scott’s plan with Gortat playing PF, he’ll be guarded by more mobile bigs who can step out on him more effectively and take away an open mid-range shot that he’s not good at making in the first place.

    On to other Suns news, good to see Nash finally step up and demand the Three Stooges upgrade the team’s talent if they want to resign him! In particular, on the Dan Patrick Show, Nash told Patrick, “”I’m not going to come back to the Suns if there isn’t an improvement, if they’re not ambitious and they’re not looking to upgrade the roster seriously.” While Nash should have spoken up sooner, like 2 years ago when the moron Sarver decided to replace Amare with Hedo, Childress, and Warrick, it’s better late than never.

    Hopefully adding this pressure on the Suns FO will compel the three dummies to really improve this team by next season. However, since the only soon to be free agent that’s left is Williams, with the chances of him signing as good as the Suns winning the championship this season, if Nash is true to his word, this appears to be his final season as a Sun. Furthermore, considering the team doesn’t have the trade assets to make any kind of deal other than a lateral one, and that since they are likely to draft around 12-15, neither option is really viable for them to help retain Nash.

  • Tony

    soon to be max-level free agent*

  • A-ROCK

    All you Suns fans loyal to Nash hahaha …..it was going to happen sooner or later …… Nash not loyal to YOU!!!! HAHA I know that breaks some of your hearts but deal with it you blind unrealistic suckers haha …… It’s getting real Baby….Suns better improve or there protical son is Gone!!! Haha Gone.

  • A-ROCK

    HHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaHHHHHHHHHHHHaaaaaaaa Blake Griffin made French Fry Famous hahahahah I just seen that dunk he did on him hahahahahha WTF he didn’t even try to block it….he tried to get out the way…………… the funny thing is he JUMPED! I swear that guy is retarded.

  • A-ROCK

    They should put Lopez at center and Gortat at power forward in the 4th quarter only when Nash starts slowing down the pace to run a half court offense. Only! and draw up plays for this offense. Since Nash slows the ball down with 3 minutes left in the 4th quarter down to the spurs walking the ball up the court, isn’t his game 7 seconds or less. Can some one explain this to me? I think they need to keep running or run that half court offense with gortat and lopez. Either way lopez is going to miss the rebound when gortat misses the 20 footer! ugh

  • steve

    Tony, any facts? If not, please don’t feel the need to reply.

    A-ROCK – I think the word you were searching for is “prodigal.”. Your point is understood though. No athlete truly does things for the fans. They do things for themselves. And honestly, all of us would do the same if we were in their shoes.

    The suns will be ok in the end, and the fans will survive. Being a fan isn’t about a player to me. It’s about the club. I’m not a fan of nash. I’m not a fan of sarver. I’m not a fan of gentry, dudley, frye, hill, etc. I’m a fan of the suns. The faces will change, but the franchise is the most lasting thing we can root for.

  • neurotic steve nash fan

    @ steve. If they arent able to resign Nash, the suns will not be ok in the end. And the fans may not survive. I know you know basketball. It amazes me how you can say this with a straight face. If Suns pg’s are Telfair, Price, and some other mediocre chump next year, How are you going to survive as a fan?

    I’ll follow Nash. and while I’ll miss JD and others, I’ll probably miss Eddie Johnson the most. Once Nash retires, I will no longer watch NBA. Too selfish and too black

  • A-ROCK

    @steve good point but alot of people don’t understand this i.e. like Nero the guy above me. Also thanks for correcting my spelling like my 2nd grade teacher and I wasn’t searching at all. They ( the fans) associate the franchise with the players that play for it and the faces that pass through. I hate to say it but the suns are LOSING!! They need to get Nash some help and not sign him to a max contract. The Sun’s are in a lose lose situation once again. It comes down to the stupid A$$ decisions the organization makes. For example…. They sign nash to a max then they can’t sign no more than 1 other max player who actually will be on the team for atleast 5 years producing and Nash will be over in 3, you don’t sign him to a max you end up losing him for nothing like Amari!!! What do you do…..Trade Nash for something decent and then go out and sign 2 max players or keep him and sign 2 max but he can’t be max!! I been saying this trade Nash all year like it’s going to happen, and all the loser Nash D#$% riders been saying keep him so he can leave for nothing, because do you really think he LOVES phoenix as much as he wants you to believe to stick around for the veterans minimum (or a lil more lol) even though he’s made over 120 million in his career. Let that man live and get off his nuts, we’ll see what happens when his LEBRON DECISION COMES UP!!!! GET READY FOR THE HATE NASH BECAUSE PHOENIX FANS DESERVE MORE OUT OF YOU!!!!!!!

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    Don’t you remember that Amare most often played at the PF position, not C? When the Suns had a big, he was usually out there playing C, whether it was Jake Voskuhl, Scott Williams, Kurt Thomas, or Shaq.

    Sure, the Suns often went into an atypical small ball format where they’d play Amare at C, but the idea there was to get favorable matchups of Amare versus slower centers. This is not such a big deal with Gortat versus other centers, because Gortat avoids contact and won’t get them in foul trouble.

    Now the Suns are playing a slower game than they did under D’Antoni. They’re not trying to score in 7 seconds. They’re trying to be more deliberate and defensive-minded. In that context, a Gortat / Lopez front court makes sense to me, as they should really be able to shut down the paint.

    Gortat can run the floor in transition regardless of whether he’s playing PF or C, just as Amare did. In fact, the likely scenario is Lopez throws the ball in bounds to Nash, then Nash throws down court to Gortat who lays it in. Just as Kurt Thomas would in-bound to Nash and Nash would lob it to Amare.

  • GoSuns

    @A-Rock, Stve doesn’t worry that much about financial securtiy he obviously made his recent statements because playing for a contender is what he worries about these days, he doesn’t make max money now hasn’t for a while and prolly won’t press that issue, also there are other players who can be very valuable that aren’t max money, like Eric Gordon who prolly won’t resign with NO, and Batum, there are some moves to be made this organization just can’t be scared to make them this off-season