PHOENIX – This time, the Suns’ defensive issues weren’t enough to show up in the final score. That didn’t mean they weren’t awfully concerning.
Phoenix’s woes showed within a stretch of nine minutes, when a 12-point lead turned into a 10-point hole, and that slice of the game was all you needed to know about the team’s 104-96 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.
Former Suns forward Matt Barnes exploded for 18 third-quarter points by way of, at first, wide open looks. When the Suns finally stopped their heads from spinning around to see Barnes fire up shot after shot, and it was already too late to cool off Barnes. And then it was Blake Griffin’s turn to attack Phoenix in the post.
Barnes finished with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting, and Griffin scored 22 to go with six assists.
Meanwhile, P.J. Tucker embodied what the Suns overall were lacking, leading Phoenix with 18 points, 10 rebounds and two steals.
If only he had a little more help.
Alex Len, who started in place of injured Miles Plumlee (knee sprain) wasn’t the problem for the Suns’ new starting lineup, which suffered from its usual bout of sluggishness, especially defensively. A 16-7 deficit for the Suns turned when Hornacek subbed in Leandro Barbosa and Marcus Morris, who helped Phoenix finish the first quarter on a 11-2 run that gave it a 25-24 lead.
The injury news got worse from there, however. Barbosa was lost for the game, and potentially the season, with a broken hand suffered in the first half.
Morris was the biggest difference in the first half, scoring 10 points off the bench in what represented Phoenix’s 55-44 halftime lead quite well — it was solid bench for Phoenix against little second-unit production for Los Angeles. But it wasn’t enough to silence the Clippers’ starters in the third quarter. Multiple defensive breakdowns and failed rotations allowed Barnes to scored 16 points in the first five minutes of the period, bringing Los Angeles right back into the game.
Phoenix trailed Los Angeles 81-73 heading to the fourth, and though it didn’t wilt, it certainly didn’t win.
After Markieff Morris forced a turnover as Griffin ran out of court going baseline, the Suns forward went baseline past Griffin for a dunk and then followed it up with a 3-pointer the next time down to bring Phoenix within 90-86 with 6:31 to play. Gerald Green went on his own eight-point spurt two minutes later, giving the Suns hope, but the Clippers were executing too well to cough up their road victory.
The point guard battle was one that ended with two relatively sub-par stat lines. Both Goran Dragic and Chris Paul finished with 14 points after going at one another throughout — one instance could be called a scuffle but went unnoticed by the referees.
Doc Rivers said it about Phoenix before the game: its culture was built around being the team with a chip on its shoulder. And although the Suns didn’t wilt, their lapses in that identity proved they’ll need to dig deep to find more of that scrappiness that got them this far.
Ryan Weisert’s pregame questions answered after the jump.
The first meeting was a quintessential 2013-14 Suns victory. Can they repeat that performance?
While Phoenix seems to matchup well with Los Angeles, that certainly went out the window in the second half especially. The offense stagnated and the defense began failing on rotations that allowed Barnes to get hot. On one play, former Suns guard Jared Dudley penetrated all the way to the hoop without a single Phoenix player stepping over to provide help defense. It was a microcosm of the mistakes that the Suns are making.
And in allowing Los Angeles to shoot 51.3 percent, the Suns were rarely in transition.
Can the Suns second unit take advantage?
The Suns bench outscored the Clippers 20-3 through the first 24 minutes and 37-12 overall, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the massive difference in scoring in the starting units. The Los Angeles starters did too much damage and Gerald Green and Channing Frye provided little help offensively.
Green finished with 17 and scored in a flurry of eight points in the fourth quarter that brought Phoenix within five points, but it wasn’t enough.
Who’s got Blake?
Channing Frye and Markieff Morris took a bit of the minutes against Griffin to start, but the interesting twist was P.J. Tucker getting a decent amount of time attempting to keep Griffin off the block. That of course only made Griffin attack out of the post with more aggression, but in general, Tucker didn’t handle the assignment too poorly.
Griffin got cooking in the third, scoring 12 points to complement Matt Barnes 18 in the period.
The Suns actually did well on the boards, winning on second-chance points 23-10. Len finished with six points and six rebounds, all in the first half. That matched DeAndre Jordan until he woke up in the second half to finish with 10 points and 17 boards.