Los Angeles Clippers 117, Phoenix Suns 99 — Fourth-quarter meltdown


The Phoenix Suns played three solid quarters, but still finished with the same result as their previous six games in their 117-99 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

After never trailing by more than seven during a back-and-forth first three quarters in which the Suns answered every Clippers blow, Los Angeles turned this into a rout by going on a 15-2 run early in the fourth quarter to turn away the Suns’ upset bid.

Jamal Crawford could not be stopped in that final period in which the Clippers outscored Phoenix 32-16, as he nearly bettered the Suns’ total on his own with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with two assists. Incredibly, all the damage was done by the Clippers’ potent reserve corps.

“I said it already, we have to stop the turnovers and slow down their bench,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “It is like what I said pre-game, their bench is what got them separation not their starters. It was Matt [Barnes], [Eric] Bledsoe, Lamar [Odom], [Ronny] Turiaf, and Jamal [Crawford] when they went on their run; there was not one starter on the floor when that happened.”

Gentry may not have known how to stop it, but his pre-game worry did indeed become a reality. Every LA bench player that logged significant time finished with a plus/minus equal to or greater than any starter, led by Matt Barnes’ plus 20 in 28 minutes and Jamal Crawford’s plus 18 in 33.

What’s scary for the rest of the Western Conference is that these deep Clips were missing Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill in this one. I don’t know how Vinny Del Negro is going to balance all those minutes when everyone is at full strength, but that’s surely a better problem to have than many on Gentry’s plate these days.

As for the turnovers, that was an issue all game but the Suns were good enough in other areas to offset it until the fourth. Phoenix coughed it up 20 times and yielded 30 points off those miscues. Against a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, that’s a recipe for defeat.

The Suns’ big lineup move — inserting Jared Dudley into the starting lineup at the three spot for Michael Beasley — worked to a degree. Beasley played one of his best offensive games of the season, scoring a team-high 21 points on an un-Beasley-like 7-for-11 shooting. He single-handedly kept the Suns in the game in the second quarter when he scorched the rims for a white-hot 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

Beasley was in the kind of zone we have seldom seen him in. He seemed to be making everything, providing the Suns with the go-to scorer they so desperately want him to become.

But he was never able to find that same rhythm in the second half as he attempted just three shots in 14:53 and scored a mere three points. Obviously the Clippers focused on taking him out of this game, but the Suns needed two superlative halves out of Beasley to steal this contest. They only got one.

Despite the hot shooting, the Suns were still much better when he sat. They lost 21 points in his 30 minutes, which means they beat the Clippers when he wasn’t on the floor.

“I have been coming off the bench my whole career: my rookie year and last year in Minnesota,” Beasley said about his bench role. “Coach is just trying to find a solution right now because we are in a losing streak. He is trying to find a solution to keep us all in the game, and not just keep us in the game, but find a way for us to win games.”

That is something the Suns have been unable to do of late. They got a few solid performances aside from Beasley, but they just never seem to have enough players playing well in the same game. Luis Scola put up 18 and 10 on 8-for-11 shooting without even playing a full 24 minutes. Shannon Brown poured in 19 although he needed 16 shots to do it while playing 40 minutes with P.J. Tucker sitting this one out because of a sprained knee.

On the flip side, the Suns’ point guards did nothing of note, with Goran Dragic scoring a mere eight points on 2-for-7 shooting to go with only five assists and Bassy Telfair going scoreless in 21:41. Jared Dudley started but only played 18:17 (he was fine when he played, he just didn’t get much run) and Marcin Gortat went for six and three while taking only three shots in 24 minutes.

Few people expected the Suns to contend for a playoff spot, but at this rate their season will essentially be over by New Year’s. Their losing streak has now reached six games, and it’s hard to see any move Gentry can make to significantly turn this around.

It was nice to see Beasley respond to his benching with a strong offensive performance, but the Suns’ issues are bigger than anything a lineup change can solve.

“It is what it is and the guys will play through it,” Gentry said. “If we are going to get out of this, we have to work our way out of it. In this league no one feels sorry for you. It is not a pity league. If you’re down and you want to get yourself out of it, then you have to work yourself out of it. We have to do it collectively as a group: coaches and players and all others involved. We have to be the ones to work ourselves out of this losing streak.”

  • Anonymous

    lol mayo scored 40 pts today. Good going phx.

  • Scott

    I didn’t watch the game.

    I may not watch another game till the Suns make a trade.

  • Scott

    Let me clarify that. It’s not that the team has to be winning. I watched all the Suns games that season they traded Marbury, despite the losing.

    But there has to be some sort of purpose to it. That maybe there’s some sort of hope of things getting better, or maybe the younger players are developing or something.

    But this … what we’ve got with the Suns … I can’t figure out any point to it. It’s a closed loop.

  • Tony

    @Scott,

    maybe you are finally coming to the realization about how pathetically incompetent thie Suns management really is…. I certainly hope so anyway, though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you blamed Steve Kerr for this lousy Suns team.

    What the Three Stooges have been trying to do is actually quite simple-they believe that they can rebuild this team back into an elite one while also staying somewhat competitive. The only problem with this strategy is that they don’t have a clue how to implement their strategy effectively. But that’s to be expected when considering that Sarver remains the principal owner and based on him hiring two unqualified individuals to vitally important roles in the front office (Babby and Blanks).

    As far as trades are concerned, they are going to have to trade Gortat and the longer they keep him, the less value they will get in return for him. I blame Gentry for his handling of Gortat because not only is Gortat not featured much at all in the team’s offense, Gentry’s insistence on benching him in 4th quarters was bound to negatively affect Gortat’s confidence in himself and his desire to be a member of this organization. In today’s game for instance, he only took 3 shots! It makes no sense to continue focusing exclusively on the perimeter players, (i.e., Dragic, Brown, and Beasley), to generate the team’s offense at the expense of using more pick and rolls to get Gortat involved. Since both the Suns organization and Gortat have apparently given up on each other, the sooner the team can trade him, the better it will be for the Suns in the long term. This is especially so because I doubt Gortat has any interest in resigning with the Suns and so, the closer it gets to his contract ending, the less bargaining leverage the Suns will have to get anything in return for him.

  • SHAZAM

    marcin girltot is an adams apple away from a double double

  • SHAZAM

    if some how they could surgically transplant girltots big nose to between his legs AND if he could grow a pair maybe just maybe we could keep him…from this point forward until he changes he should be called the polish hermaphrodite.

  • DBreezy

    Well it looks like the ORL game is indeed going to be a big one (relatively speaking) for this team. They’re at the point where bad teams see an opportunity to get that rarest of things, a road win, and good teams are determined not to be the ones that break the streak. With 3 days off afterwards if they’re going to fire Gentry in-season this would seem like a logical place to do it if they lose.

  • Sillmarillion

    I just watched those games again which were won by the Suns. Almost in all of them Gortat was a key player (points, boards, blocks). In the early season Dragic was playing the PnR quite often with Marcin and it was veru succesful.
    In those games in which Gortat wasn’t involved in the offense the Suns lost.
    Why do the Suns don’t use Marcin more often? I mean 3 shots in the game vs LAC?! Really?

  • GregM

    The Suns are fighting pit bulls with poodles. Until “ownership” gets real & spends the money tto trade for a proven scorer, the Suns will continue to look like the Wahington Generals when they play the globetrotters

  • Russell

    I don’t know how many posts I made on bleacher report, here and sbnaion, and cbs sports in regards to the Suns refusing to give Mayo a multi-year deal at about 5mil-6mil a year, I was so upset with Phx management not even putting together an offer.

    Mayo went to the Mavs for the 1 year 4.5 mil deal and 2nd year player option for one reason and one reason only to show what he is worth when he starts at SG. He will not opt in to his 2nd year, but he will demand at least 11-12 mil a year now in free agency, Phx management continues to fail.

  • john

    @Tony – Agreed on Marcin. It’s over for him in Phoenix, and I also blame Gentry for his total misuse. Gortat might not be an all-star, but he’s definitely a capable player when he’s motivated and used correctly. It’s pitiful to watch what Gentry is doing to him.

    @SHAZAM – I like it. Girltot.

    @Sillmarillion – You’re right. The only chance this team had of being any good was heavily featuring Gortat. He didn’t have to be the first or second option or anything, but in half the games this season he’s taking as many shots as a typical team’s 8th or 9th man. That’s simply unacceptable. Why take shots from a 55% shooter to hand them to guys who can’t scratch 40%?

    @GregM – It’s hardly as simple as saying, “here’s $15M, anyone wanna play here?” This team has players who can score. Gentry isn’t putting them in the right positions. Gortat has averaged above 15. Scola has averaged above 15. Beasley has averaged above 15. Goran has averaged above 15 (in a starter’s role). These guys CAN score, but not with what Gentry has them doing right now.

  • john

    @Russell – I would have been raging mad too if Mayo had actually said he wanted a mult-year deal for only $5M-$6M annually. Thing is, he said he wanted a multi-year deal (3 or more, if I remember correctly) at $8M+ (I remember reports/rumors saying he wanted 8 figures, too). http://www.arizonasports.com/?nid=41&sid=1559514

    As it is, I’m only mildly enraged. Thing is, they probably could have had BOTH Mayo and Beasley. However, Mayo wanted 3+ years guaranteed. Do you really think 3+ years of Mayo would have been beneficial for this team in the long run with 1. His history of quitting. 2. The fact that Mayo would have only made this team mildly better, perpetuating the issue of getting crappy draft picks while not having playoff success.

    Mayo wasn’t the answer to get this team back to the promised land, and he was a MUCH greater risk than Beasley at the time.

  • Scott

    @Russell -

    I agree about Mayo; I’d been advocating for the Suns to get him since his rookie year, especially when it seemed the Grizz didn’t want him. But I wanted to get him while he was cheap, not when he was going to cost an arm and a leg, so I’m with John on that part. Mayo wants more than what either the Suns or Mavs wanted to pay.

    I would have offered more than $4 million for Mayo last summer, if I was Suns GM. But my ceiling would have been $6 million.

    @Tony -

    Actually, my hope is that Sarver steps in and takes appropriate steps to fix the situation. Judging from his on-camera expressions during the “guarantee” game, he should be ready to can Blanks and make sweeping trades.

    I only hope the Suns are prepared to make the right moves. FWIW, I suspect Sarver can make better decisions than either Blanks or Babby or anyone advising him, and the question will be whether he is willing to ignore his basketball counsellors or not.

    (This is where it was helpful to have Colangelo, a basketball lifer, in charge of the Suns. He could confidently overrule everyone under him.)

    IMO, Sarver should ask Blanks for what his trade plans are right now. If they’re not genius level stuff, then Blanks needs to go. Sarver will have to work out the trade with Babby and himself (not the best scenario, but the best available), and start looking for a real GM to run the team while Gentry remains as coach.

    Then, when the Suns have a new GM, maybe sometime this spring, they’re set up in the proper position, instead of bass ackward (the way they are now).

    They’ll have both Babby and Gentry winding down the final year of their contracts and a new GM to make decisions about the draft, the direction of the team, and the personnel.

    If they don’t get rid of Blanks now, they’ll be having him sign a coach (Gentry or whoever) and signing Babby (or whoever), and then Blanks by all rights should be gone in a year, locking the Suns into another untenable position.

    So … IMO, Sarver needs to fire Blanks either before or after the coming trade, depending on what Blanks has cooked up for the trade.

  • Scott

    If we’re talking trades, does anyone have any trade scenarios in mind?

    Here’s one I suggested a bit ago:

    A 3-way trade with WAS and ORL, where the Suns would trade Beas and Johnson to WAS for Okafor and Vesely, and pass Vesely, Gortat, O’Neal, and Telfair to ORL for Afflalo, Vuvecic, Harkless, and Nicholson (but taking Ayon or O’Quinn if Nicholson isn’t available).

    That would give the Suns a starting lineup of Dragic, Afflalo, Dudley, Scola, and Vuvecic, where Vuvecic would spread the floor for Scola.

    The 2nd unit would feature Marshall, Brown, Tucker, Morris, and Okafor.

    In the developmental department would be Garrett, Harkless, Zeller, and whoever that last player from ORL is (Nicholson, Ayon, or O’Quinn).

    I assume there’s a better – or alternative – trades out there, but it seems to me this would unload the players that need to go and give the Suns pieces they need for this year and in the future.

    Of course, it would help this trade considerably if Gentry would run plays tonight to make Gortat look excellent against Vucevic, as they are playing ORL … :)

    The idea behind the trade from the WAS viewpoint is that they want to unload Okafor, and would be willing to take Beasley and Johnson as expiring contracts and as an actual improvement at SF.

    The idea behind the trade from the ORL viewpoint is that to get back into the playoffs (and avoid wasting the peak years of their veterans) they need a few more mature players at C and PG. Gortat, O’Neal, and Telfair would provide that. Vesely would replace Harkless as a young project SF. Vesely is not as likely to produce success as Harkless, but he still has good height and athleticism, and he might respond better if surrounded with the veterans on the Magic.

    The idea behind the trade from the Suns’ perspective is it gets rid of players that were going to go anyway, and brings in youth and better contracts. Okafor will be an expiring contract after next year, and after him the two top contracts on the team would be Dragic and Afflalo.

    Assuming this trade went through, I think the Suns could trade Okafor, Afflalo, and Scola in the summer, if desired. Those are fairly good trading pieces.

  • Scott

    Actually, looking at the ORL end of that trade, they’d really be just a JD away from being fully competitive.

    The Suns could trade Gortat, Dudley, Telfair, and O’Neal for Afflalo, Vucevic, Harkless, and Nicholson.

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    I agree that getting ridding of Blanks in short order is probably the best initial move for the Suns, but wonder how realistic that is? Anecdotally, I seem to recall far more coaches fired during this time of year than GM types. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, but there are a lot little ‘rules’ in all of pro-sports that don’t necessarily make a ton of sense, but are often difficult to buck well.

    I think Barkley’s, ‘I don’t know what the Suns are doing from a basketball standpoint,’ comment along with some of the things TNT guys said in the DAL game are fairly indicative of what the current perception of the Suns around the league. Regardless of who’s fault people think it is, it is what it is at the moment kind of like their record and they’ve gotta wear both.

    I guess what I’m leery of is Sarver firing Blanks without a solid plan going forward. I think that has been a problem in both the D’Antoni and Kerr/Griffin departures. While I personally felt that once they made the Shaq trade, they should have kept D’Antoni one more season my biggest beef at the time was that the Suns clearly had no plan when that situation blew up. Regardless of whether it was Kerr or D’Antoni’s fault, to me one of the responsibilities of Kerr was to be the bigger man amongst often petulant players and fiery coaches. He had no plan in his back pocket and instead we got a long search that missed out on some of their preferred candidates and yielded Porter and eventually Turner. The Kerr departure was a similar story in terms of the resulting search.

    I don’t want prospective candidates to view this situation as so dysfunctional that the good ones pass, especially since the Suns under any owner haven’t paid big money for coaching or GM talent. Sarver probably needs to have touched base privately with prospective front office people and have an idea of what he wants the structure of the office to be before he fires Blanks. Whether its Babby or someone else, he needs to know if there is still resistance around the league to the Suns current management structure. I also think that waiting to get a new GM till spring could be risky perception wise if this team’s spiral continues. Of course that could change greatly if any of these college players look like stars and the Suns look like they’re in line to grab one of them.

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    Oh, I agree there ought to be a plan. Sarver ought to have an idea of what he’s doing before he starts. Preferably he’d already have suitable GM candidates in mind before he fires Blanks.

    (No doubt Bickley and Brightside would like that headline: “Sarver Fires Blanks.”)

    I think it’s likely that in the past Sarver leaned too heavily on Kerr for ideas and decisions. Sarver might need to make a few calls on his own. I’m not aware of anyone he has who can be trusted to make smart decisions for him to lean on.

    Hopefully, Sarver can find a good GM. Otherwise, the Suns are in for more pain even if Blanks goes.

    Do you suppose there’s anyone left of quality to poach out of San Antonio?

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    Idk if anyone is left in their front office anymore to poach. I know the Suns liked Budenholzer as a potential coach but he declined to even interview.