Los Angeles Clippers 104, Phoenix Suns 96 -- Deadly lapse


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.

  • foreveris2long

    When Frye is not hitting a three he is pretty worthless. Len played well for his 1st game as a starter. He should realize however he needs to be stronger and pay attention to the ball to avoid surprises and winding up to dunk allowing defenders to block his shot.

    I have no idea how they kept leaving Barnes open.

  • foreveris2long

    With Barbosa out, Goodwin now is your time to get consistent minutes. I hope Len starts again.

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  • Luka

    I’m sick of Frye. Bench him for Markieff or go small and move Tucker to the 4 spot.

    I also agree Goodwin needs consistent minutes. Barbosa has been nothing more than a hindrance to his development. Let Archie play. Jump shot be damned. He’s the best athlete on the team, and can fill up the stat sheet with steals, and blocks.

  • ellensburgbballfan

    Respectable 1st career start for Len

    Too bad Barbosa broke his hand

    Len scored more points, grabbed more boards and had a better plus minus than Frye in less minutes

    I love Frye as a person, but on the court he struggles with defense

    If he isn’t hitting shots he doesn’t seem to bring much else, at least lately

    Tucker played great

    It is nice to see the team fighting , even with the poor defense

  • EBJM

    BCrayZ is a HUGE fan of the +/- stat.

    Shvlik was a +18. Frye a – 23.

    Jordan and Len were statistically even with about 9/6 each after about 20 minutes though Len only played 13 minutes. Another 20 minutes later Jordan had 17 boards with 11 offensive. Len had only played 6 more minutes and still had three fouls to use.

    Appears like too much Channing Frye and not enough Alex Len and Shavlik Randolph.

    Observation: Clippers stocked up on former Suns SFs, Dudley, Barnes, & Turkoglu. Sort of ironic that the Suns are somewhat weak at SF and Barnes goes off for 28. Must be that street cred.

  • ellensburgbballfan

    I know, right?

    Hopefully we can find a young 3 in the off season thru a trade or draft that doesn’t currently make a ton of $$$

    There is only so much you can spend, especially if the Suns are giving Bledsoe a 4 years 46 million deal this off season

  • GoSuns

    Doug McDermott

  • Eric

    This four game stretch will put the Suns out of the playoff hunt. Too bad Bledsoe is not in any hurry to get back and help cause this 0-4 stretch they are about to go on will knock them out of the 7/8th slot and put them 3 games behind Memphis

  • Roger

    OKC game, I say S. Randolph and Markieff start, let A. Len and Frye come off the bench. We need size to combat the OKC starting bigs.

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    That reminds me, rookie center Steven Adams for OKC is averaging per 36 numbers that are virtually identical to Lens numbers on the season