PHOENIX — It was hard to believe by the end of the ballgame, but midway through the second quarter the Suns trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by a mere three points.
That’s when Chris Paul re-entered the game to engineer a 15-3 run to end the half before Los Angeles dominated the third quarter to the tune of 33-17 to hand the Suns their worst home loss of the season by far, 103-77.
“Tonight they took it to us, no excuses,” said Suns wing Jared Dudley. “They were just the better team. Offensively, we couldn’t stop them. They hit a lot of threes. We tried to take away their down low, Blake was doing a good job of that. Through our turnovers and bad offense that led to them getting easy points; that’s a team you really can’t afford that to. Then, we tried to stop their bench and Crawford had a big day. Everything they wanted to do, they did it and everything we tried to take away, we didn’t.”
In the process, the Clippers extended a franchise record by winning their 13th straight game (the longest such streak in the NBA this season) while snapping a 10-game losing streak in the Valley of the Sun. Los Angeles also won its sixth straight road game for the first time in franchise history, a record that previously belonged to the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves.
Los Angeles earned this victory on the defensive end of the floor by limiting Phoenix to 36.3 percent shooting and holding the Suns without a three-pointer until the fourth. The Suns missed 14-of-17 long balls for the game, including all eight through three quarters, while Los Angeles drilled 11-of-21.
“It’s really tough playing uphill against that team,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “When you’re playing from behind against that team it becomes very difficult because they’re so good defensively.”
This contest was marred by six technical fouls and some chippy play on both ends. Jermaine O’Neal and Ronny Turiaf got involved in a staredown with a bit of pushing in the second quarter, and in the third quarter Marcin Gortat received a technical for swinging his elbow (Blake Griffin seemed to pretend like he got hit) and DeAndre Jordan stuck his elbow out at the end of a play in an aggressive manner to earn one as well.
That followed a first half in which the Clippers shot 13 free throws to the Suns’ four, and before this one turned into a rout in the fourth it seemed like the game was far enough of control that it would not take much to escalate into a bigger issue.
“It wasn’t a real basketball game,” Gortat said. “There was a lot of wrestling, a lot of fighting, and just basically was not the performance we expected from us.
“I think at some point we stopped playing basketball, we stopped executing and doing stuff that we are supposed to do. We started wrestling and started worrying about referees and we started complaining more and we just didn’t play basketball. We can’t get discouraged, at some point we lost our composure and we just have to stay strong in our minds.”
Gentry received his technicals for explaining to official Rodney Mott that he felt Goran Dragic was fouled on a jumper, which is surprising since Gentry has not received any punishment when he has said far more in the past.
“First of all, I told the team I have to apologize,” he said. “I have to do a better job of keeping my cool in that situation right there. A little frustrated, I thought Goran got hit on the shot and obviously they didn’t call it. He thought I deserved two technical fouls, so that is the way it goes, but I have to do a better job of keeping my cool.”
The Suns overall just unraveled as Paul (17 points, 13 assists, five steals), Griffin (23 points, 11 boards, four steals) and Jamal Crawford (22 points on 12 shots) picked them apart.
On a night the Suns were without Michael Beasley to illness, the rest of the players did little to advance the theory that he’s one of the main problems with the team thus far. Goran Dragic was particularly bad, scoring just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting and dishing one assist while Sebastian Telfair was just as porous with no assists, four turnovers and 3-for-10 shooting. In fact, Jermaine O’Neal had four times as many assists as the Suns’ two point guards, and that’s never good.
Shannon Brown missed 10 of his 13 shots, Gortat pulled down 12 boards but only scored eight points and nobody really caught fire offensively.
Gentry was asked whether there have been any setbacks this weekend after the four-game winning streak, and he said, “No, I mean I don’t judge a whole lot off this game right here. Like I said, I think we are playing the elite team in the league. You know, so obviously their goals are a little bit different than ours. What I would like to see us do is be consistent in what we are doing. This right here kind of got away from us right after halftime. Last night I thought we did fine.”
Gentry understands what he has with this Suns team, and it’s not a squad that can compete with the Clippers’ of the world (or at least that’s what I take from that statement), especially on a night they clamp down defensively and get superb performances from their stars. That’s particularly true when the Suns commit a litany of bad turnovers that lead right to LA buckets, as they did.
Such is life for a lottery team whose four-game winning streak now seems like a distant memory.
I wrote the Daily Dime lead tonight focusing mainly on the Clippers’ winning streak and how Gentry called them the best team in the league. I also discussed how the Clippers are somewhat like the SSOL Suns in that they are a fun team to watch with an all-world point guard and a freak of nature power forward, and that they better make the most of this window because it doesn’t take much for it to shut, as the Suns learned over the years.