PHOENIX – During the game on Wednesday night Chris Paul didn’t get under Goran Dragic’s skin, but he sure got under his jersey. And when it was all said and done, the Los Angeles Clippers point guard likely got under coach Jeff Hornacek’s skin.
Paul propelled Los Angeles to a 112-108 win with 20 points and nine assists. He frustrated Dragic into a 2-for-11 shooting night, and though The Dragon scored 11 of his 15 points at the foul stripe, the damage was done. Paul also hit the go-ahead shot, a deep three-pointer at the end of a shot clock that gave Los Angeles a 108-106 lead with less than two minutes to play.
The Suns put eight players into double-figures and played lively defense.
But even an injured Blake Griffin scored 23 points, tying guard Darren Collison for the game high.
The effort from Phoenix, in general, was more spirited than the loss to the Lakers on Sunday.
Phoenix finally got forward Channing Frye involved in the third quarter, when he hit a three-pointer, his first bucket of the game, 2:30 into the second half. Two minutes later, he drilled another three that gave the Suns a 76-69 lead, their largest to that point.
P.J. Tucker also came alive in the second half, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring eight points to follow up his quiet prior six quarters.
The Suns lead grew to as many as 17, and they went into the fourth quarter with a 91-78 advantage thanks to holding Los Angeles to 18 third-quarter points.
Doc Rivers wanted revenge and went with a revenge lineup during the fourth quarter. He ran out Jared Dudley, and for the first time in the game, Hedo Turkoglu, to take it to their old Suns team, and the Clippers ripped down the double-digit lead and then some. The Suns lost the fourth quarter 34-17.
It would be Dudley, the former Sun, closing out the game on free throws as loose balls when the Clippers way and Phoenix struggled to get easy looks come crunch time.
Once again, the Suns failed to make headway in the playoff race. The Memphis Grizzlies lost 102-88 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Golden State Warriors fell to the San Antonio Spurs 111-90.
To the pregame questions.
Can Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic limit the guards?
While Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic had fairly good success against Chris Paul early on, foul trouble aside, the Suns struggled to contain Darren Collison, the little-talked-about but highly productive point guard who’s started alongside Paul for the injury-plagued Clips. Collison scored 17 points by halftime and 23 for the game.
The real story was Paul and Collison containing the Suns’ explosive backcourt. Dragic had 15 points and eight assists while Bledsoe added 14 points and five turnovers.
Can the Suns starters carry their weight?
There wasn’t a slow start early for Phoenix. The Suns’ pregame warmups included high-school level rebel rousing throughout – at one point Gerald Green took a football style snap and launched a three with two blockers and two defensive ends rushing him – and the starting unit came out of the gates looking just as loose.
Phoenix trailed 30-25 after a quarter, but it wasn’t necessarily anything pressing that built a slight deficit. Offensively, however, the bench unit bailed the Suns starters out again. Channing Frye went scoreless until 2:30 had expired in the third quarter, P.J. Tucker hit a lone three early in the game and Eric Bledsoe battle foul trouble.
Marcus Morris and Gerald Green caught fire off the bench, combining for 30 between them in the first half and getting another nine points from Markieff Morris.
In the second half, it was a different story. Frye and Tucker accounted for three-point plays in two different ways, and the Suns built a double-digit lead. The bench, however, went cold in the second half.
Can the Suns grind with Doc’s team without losing their heads?
Bledsoe picked up a technical foul following his third personal foul, which came on a drawn charge by Jared Dudley with very little contact and after Bledsoe had already kicked the ball out to the perimeter.
Also in the second quarter, Chris Paul picked up an offensive foul attempting to post Goran Dragic and after the whistle blew was called for a technical after a little extra-curricular activity with Dragic.