Phoenix Suns 93, Los Angeles Clippers 88 — Two for the road


PHOENIX – For the Los Angeles Clippers, it was a night those people who know the history of the Phoenix Suns can related to. Without their All-Star point guard, Chris Paul, there was something majorly missing, no matter the remaining talent.

Blake Griffin looked unenthused and potentially injured throughout after going 0-for-4 from the foul stripe in the early minutes, the Los Angeles wings struggled to hit contested jumpers and Phoenix’s Goran Dragic put together his second impressive performance in a row. He torched starting Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe for 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

The result? Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter moving to 2-0 in his tenure with a 93-88 victory on Thursday in US Airways Center.

“If you can defend, you always have a chance to win a game,” said Hunter, whose team held the Clippers to 40 percent in both halves and limited Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to 14 combined shots.

“We didn’t really deny them,” Hunter added. “We wanted to stop those athletic bigs from getting to the rim. You know, Marc is long, Markieff has been just outstanding defensively for us and Scola is always great for us defensively. The weakside is really starting to get better, recognition of cutters, getting below the ball.”

The Phoenix players stayed between their men and the rim, and the Los Angeles guard-wing crew of Willie Green, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill went a combined 6-of-24.

The Suns also failed to wilt down the stretch for the second night in a row. Dragic made a drive-and-dump to Marcin Gortat with three minutes to play for a seven-point lead, and the Suns got enough stops and won the 50-50 balls they’d often failed to grab throughout key moments of this season.

“We were doing a good job,” Scola said. “The first half they got a few dunks and a few fastbreak points. We lost control for a little bit and that’s when they made their run. But we stick with it.

“Today they made their run, we adjust, we go back to doing what we say we’re going to do.”

Up 86-82, Luis Scola was stripped driving in the lane, and a Dragic jumper with the clock winding down was blocked to lead to a Clippers fastbreak. Jamal Crawford, who had been held relatively in check up to that point, hit a corner three to bring Los Angeles within a point.

But the Suns – after using two timeouts and attempting to inbound the ball three times without a turnover – finally got the ball into play and a player at the foul stripe. Gortat hit two free throws with 23 seconds left to give Phoenix a three-point lead.

Phoenix took advantage of a 1-for-2 trip to the foul stripe for Crawford, then used a clear-path foul on the inbound pass combined with another foul on the ensuing inbound to get four free throws throws. Three of those were made for a 91-86 lead that the Suns would use to hold off the Clippers.

The Suns got a solid start, and they survived short bursts of runs without flinching like they’d often done in the past.

The Suns led 23-13 with under three minutes to play, but only led 24-20 after the first quarter. Phoenix marked up a 39-28 lead on a Michael Beasley jumper with 6:20 left in the second, but the Clippers went on a 9-0 run over the next two minutes capped by the first lob after a lazy pass by Beasley.

Of the bench unit, Morris indeed was solid if not highly effective. He scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and outplayed Griffin’s modest 12 points and eight boards.

Phoenix led at the half 50-46 , the final two points coming in thanks to Vinny Del Negro and Crawford earning technical fouls in what became an odd-feeling game on national TV. Crawford would finished with a team-high 21 on 8-of-12 shooting, but he didn’t have the help in the end.

It was 68-66, Suns, after three quarters, but the expected push by the sleepy Clippers never came in the fourth.

For the second game in a row an energetic Scola, who Hunter pulled earlier in the halves to rest for the fourth quarter, filled the stat sheet. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Dragic was the other Suns played putting together a rare string of two successful games. He hit 3-of-7 three-pointers and went to the foul stripe 14 times, making 11.

“It’s good to see him smiling and being himself,” Hunter said. “You want your point guard to have the ultimate confidence, to make mistakes to play through them, to have the total command of a team. That’s what we as a staff have tried to give to him. We’re giving him a lot of responsibility, we’re giving him a lot of freedom.”

So far, so good for Hunter’s team, which appears to be at least buying into the fight.

But, as Scola always warns, it was just one game.

  • Scott
  • DBreezy

    Just finished watching the game, as Reggie Miller said the honeymoon is on! In all seriousness though, outside of more energy and more historically typical shots from Beas, I haven’t seen a lot of changes under Lindsey although they’ve finished two games in a row late which certainly counts for a lot this season. Beas’ play the last two games is encouraging to me on some levels, but frustrating on others. I say that as someone who wanted the Suns to take a one year flyer on him last season in trade for Lopez whom I felt Babby/Blanks had no intention of retaining. Time will tell if Hunter is a better coach than Gentry, but Alvin certainly supported Beasley in a way that he has never been supported in his career by Spo, Rambis or Adelman. So why didn’t he play with this energy level from the start of the season? Seems to easy to blame it on a guy who supported him and makes it hard for me to expect it to continue.

    On the Marshall question, I think they have to play him whether it’s now or after the trade deadline. Telfair is clearly the better player at this point, but he’s in the last year of his deal. Bassy probably wants a multi-year deal and probably sees the writing on the wall with the team having not only a 1st round pick at the point, but another guy in Garett. From the team’s standpoint if you still believe in Marshall, you have to get him some PT vs regular season NBA guys during meaningful moments of the game. I’m sure he’ll play in SL again, but that’s just not the same for a guy who will likely be a rotation player next season.

  • DBreezy

    On another note, I was glad to hear Barkley call out Blake Griffin and him not being impactful to the game. I harped on this last year on AZC, but ignoring injuries I still think I’d rather have a young Amar’e than Griffin.

    Blake’s a better passer and rebounder than Amar’e was or is, but Amar’e was always more a killer even when he had no clue what he was doing. There is no way in hell that young Amar’e would let a combo of Scola, Gortat and Morris make him look that meek outside of two plays. It would be one thing if Blake just missed shots, but he wasn’t even aggressive and that ankle likely wasn’t as bad as the toe injury Amar’e quietly played through among others. I just don’t know what Blake is doing sometimes. He doesn’t always roll to the hoop on S/R’s, he passes up most jumpers, and he largely didn’t even think about doing anything on the box last night. I’m not a Clipper fan, but it’s kind of frustrating to watch him just kind of float out at there at times with his talent, choosing to try and intimidate with that dumbass stare vs taking hearts on the court like a young Amar’e did.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    @ DBreezy

    “that dumbass stare”
    You hit the nail on the head David….Griffin’s IQ might not be as high as the Clippers point total last night.

  • Robert Sarver

    I build winners.

  • DBreezy

    I forgot about that classic quote Robert. Sarver still isn’t the most media savvy guy as he demonstrated last week, but he has come a long way from we he said that largely by staying out of the spotlight more often.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    @Harry,

    It’s all good. Definitely have to look the article for what it is as a game recap. The Suns played well and won; it’s a reflection of the guys on the court and even Hunter. The Suns’ situation as a whole, I think we mostly agree, is not a good one.

  • Forever is2long

    Scott, thanks for finding the article for all to see. DBreezy I said after the firing I would wait 5 games to judge Hunter. The only noticeable change I can detect is Dragic is more aggressive in scoring and attempting to penetrate.

    As for Marshall, yeah they have to play him but my guess it will initially come when the Suns are down by 10 or more maybe in the 1st half of a game or certainly when we are down a lot late in a game. I suspect Hunter is trying to gain the confidence of his core players before attacking the Marshall issue. He should get a few looks tonight and or tomorrow. However it could be really ugly watching him try and guard Tony Parker or Collison.

    As for Griffin, yeah I too think Amare was always a money player though rebounding was his nemesis. I think the most glaring difference is in the playoffs when the tempo slows and Blake seems more shy in shooting his jumper. However Blake is so young I suspect he will be better than Amare by the end of his career if he stays healthy.

  • DBreezy

    Foreveris,

    Griffin should be better, but I don’t know if he will. His jumper looks nowhere near as nice as Amar’e’s did even by his third year, he isn’t as fierce, and he doesn’t have that quick first step.