You know the sound a balloon makes when the air is let out? That sound perfectly sums up the Suns 112-105 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at the StaplesCenter.
Phoenix was completely blown away in the first half. Goran Dragic picked up two fouls early in the first and another early in the third. He played only 12 minutes of the first 24 minutes, and as a result, Phoenix looked out-of-rhythm and hapless on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they settled for far too many jumpers and shot just 36% from the floor. Defensively they allowed Blake Griffin to net 29 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the first half. As a team, the Clippers hit over 60% of their shots and built a 17-point halftime lead.
In the third quarter that lead swelled to 25 points as Phoenix continued to struggle at both ends. But then the Clippers got complacent and became more concerned with getting Blake Griffin to 40 points than running their offense or communicating on defense. Slowly but surely, the Suns whittled the Clippers’ lead down. And then came the scuffle.
With a little over five minutes left in the game and the Suns trailing by 14 points, PJ Tucker and Blake Griffin hit the deck while battling for a rebound. With Griffin on top and PJ in full guard, the two began shoving one another. PJ pushed his elbow into Blake’s face as both teams raced to their teammates’ aid and broke up the skirmish. After a lengthy official review, Tucker was assessed a technical foul and ejected. The smile on PJ’s face as he left the floor was reflective of how the Suns must have felt at that point. They proceeded to go on a 15-5 run. Griffin, who was visibly rattled by the altercation, picked up offensive fouls on back-to-back possessions and fouled out with three minutes left. The Suns got as close as four points, but ultimately succumbed to their self-inflicted wounds.
This game was the last gasp of an exhausting stretch of the schedule. The win over OKC was rewarding, but the Suns had a chance to win each of other three games they played in the last week. In each contest, a long collective lapse put Phoenix in a hole they could not climb out of. That’s not a winning strategy to say the least. The Suns have proven themselves to be one of the most resilient teams in the NBA, but tonight they looked to be missing something.
For more on this game, let’s answer our three preview questions.
What about the FOE Bros.?
The Morris twins are the main reason this game did not stay a blowout. Marcus and Markieff combined for 23 points in the second half. Though the twins’ dismal first half performances contributed to the large deficit Phoenix had to overcome, the Suns would not have had a chance to win late if not for the Morris brothers. Both of them had their jumpers going in the second half, and neither was afraid to take the ball inside against DeAndre Jordan and Griffin. The Suns will need more performances like this one over the final 19 games of the year.
Does Blake Griffin remain quiet?
Nope. Not even a little bit. In fact, he was very loud. Blake finished the game with 37 points. He missed only two FG attempts and hit 9 of his 10 free throws. He operated almost exclusively on the left side of the court. It didn’t matter who the Suns threw at him. Blake was unstoppable. His jumper was going as well as it ever has. As his points piled up, the Suns tried to push him further and further away from the basket, but it didn’t matter. He hit no less than eight jump shots from that side of the floor. This wasn’t a state line filled with big-time dunks. No, this game was an illustration of the kind of player Griffin has transformed into. One who is dangerous from all areas of the court. The “brawl” with Tucker is definitely a black mark on an otherwise incredible performance, but Griffin was not entirely without blame for that encounter.
Does the Dragon get his running mate back?
Unfortunately Eric Bledsoe’s return is still a few days away. Early on it looked like Dragic’s stand-in running mate, Gerald Green, was gong to take the reigns with Dragic on the bench in foul trouble. Gerald hit five of his first nine shots en route to 13 first half points. But he managed to hit just one basket the rest of the game. Goran got himself on track in the second half finishing with 23 points and five assists.
This was truly a discombobulated affair for the Suns. It was won of the ugliest games they have played in a while. But despite the lack of elegance, the Suns once again showed their toughness and resiliency as they clawed back in this one. Looking forward, Phoenix needs to be proud of their comebacks in these three losses and forget the rest of the clutter. That’s the only way they’ll be able to break back into the playoff picture that they now find themselves outside of for the first time in several months.