The game started with a 9-0 Suns’ run and ended with a Slava Kravtsov dunk. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Phoenix’s impressive 107-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Had this game been a Hollywood movie, the story would have focused on Eric Bledsoe’s homecoming and his matchup with former mentor Chris Paul. But this wasn’t a movie, it was a good old fashioned blowout, with more garbage time than the next Transformers sequel. And Bledsoe and CP3 were little more than bit players in this very entertaining story.
The Suns hit the Clippers with everything they had from the very outset of the game. Before most Clippers fans had left their house for the arena, the Suns had run up a big lead and forced Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers to call a timeout and wake his team up. The Clippers eventually got into the game, but Phoenix still put up 30 in the first quarter and led 61-40 by halftime. The Suns played incredible defense, holding the Clippers to 30% shooting from the floor in the first half and 36% for the game. Phoenix on the other hand hit 52% of their shots in the first half, and really outclassed the Clippers in every possible way. No matter what the Clippers did, the Suns had an answer. Goran Dragic had 20 points, four assists, and five steals in the first half alone. He was a defensive menace who spearheaded a 17-steal performance by Phoenix. In transition, the Dragon was an unstoppable blur. He finished the night with 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting, carrying the load in Bledsoe’s stead.
Though the Clippers are thought of as the class of Pacific Division, at no point did the Suns’ dominance seem out of place or surprising. They simply outhustled and outperformed the Clippers in all but the garbage time fourth quarter. Perhaps the best example of the effort and dominance the Suns played with was Channing Frye’s exceptional defense on Blake Griffin. Frye refused to back down to high-flying big man, stifling him in the post on multiple occasions and holding him to just 5-of-15 shooting. Frye is the de facto elder statesman of this Suns’ team. Tonight he proved himself a worthy leader with his play on both ends of the floor. For more analysis, let’s look at our three preview questions.
Will the student become the master?
The pressure was squarely on Eric Bledsoe’s shoulders heading into this matchup. All the pregame storylines focused on his relationship with Chris Paul and the rest of his former teammates. The Clippers welcomed him home with tough team defense every time he touched the ball. Los Angeles seemed focused on forcing someone else to carry the load. Dragic, Channing Frye, and Gerald Green were more than happy to oblige them. Though Bledsoe finished with just eight points and four assists, his willingness to accept the pressure and defer was a major reason the Suns were so successful in this game. The student may not have become the master, but he certainly took a page from his playbook. As for Chris Paul, the home crowd spent the second and third quarters waiting for him to take over the game and bring LA back, but that never happened. Paul shot just 5-of-14 from the field for 11 points. He dished out seven assists, but the Suns also forced him into four turnovers. Bledsoe played tough defense on CP3 every time the two were on the floor together. Chris Paul is still the league’s best point guard, but he had more than a little trouble with Bledsoe’s strength and aggressiveness.
Will the Suns find their range from deep?
Yes they did. In the first quarter, the Suns were quiet from downtown. In the second, The Green Light came on and started raining from deep. Gerald hit 4-of-7 in the quarter and once again proved that he is one of the most confident and streaky shooters in the NBA. When Green is feeling it, every shot looks like a good shot. It because of games like this that Coach Jeff Hornacek allows Green to shoot at will. Some nights, he single-handedly puts other teams away.
But the Suns weren’t done at halftime. In the third, Channing Frye went back-to-back-to-back from downtown. His trio of triples broke the Clippers will and forced most of their starters to the bench for good. Channing ended the night 4-of-7 from deep while the Suns hit 12-of-31 overall.
Who would you rather have: Miles Plumlee or DeAndre Jordan?
After a career performance against the Sixers, Miles Plumlee came back to Earth a little bit in LA. Plumlee played limited minutes because of first half foul trouble and Coach Hornacek’s decision to go with the floor spacing Morris twins later in the game. When he was on the floor, Miles failed to take advantage of the Clippers’ questionable interior defense. His jump hook, which had been falling lately was flat and ineffective. Defensively, he protected the rim well, blocking three shots and helping his team hold the Clippers to just 36 points in the paint. But he did miss several rotations leading to easy Clippers buckets. On the glass, Miles was outclassed by DeAndre Jordan who pulled down 19 boards on the night (six offensive.) Plumlee managed to outscore Jordan 6-2, but it’s safe to say this way neither man’s finest hour. The Suns did most of their damage in transition and beyond the arc, leaving few opportunities for Plumlee to go to work in the post.