Chris Paul and the Clippers land massive blow to Suns

PHOENIX — Doc Rivers had a fight even before he arrived to U.S. Airways Center on Wednesday. He battled traffic from the Diamondbacks game next door en route to the game and was late to his pregame media session. When he finally made it, Rivers joked that baseball and basketball shouldn’t be played on the same day.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek took a little longer than normal to make it to his postgame media session. When he arrived, there were no jokes and look on his face wasn’t defeat but frustration.

Phoenix had fought blow for blow with the Los Angeles Clippers, but after 17 lead changes and 12 ties fell 112-108, taking not only a painful punch to the gut, but perhaps a wound deep enough to keep the Suns out of the playoff race.

And it wasn’t that Los Angeles didn’t overcome adversity beyond Rivers’ traffic troubles.

Blake Griffin gave it a go despite suffering from a back injury, and it was quite clear how much he was limited. It said a lot that Channing Frye eventually began trying to take the laterally-limited Griffin off the dribble, and when Griffin struggled to finish shots through contact.

Los Angeles overcame a depth-less roster, Griffin’s stiff back, two technicals and a 17-point lead in the third quarter. And that’s why Hornacek looked so pained.

“We’re telling (the Suns) at the timeout that we got to get the ball up the court quicker. We’re trying to run a play. By the time we got into the play there’s 13 seconds left on the shotclock,” he said. “Maybe that’s a conditioning thing for some of the guys. They’re not able to play the 40 minutes like some of these other guys.

“Looked like Chris Paul had all the energy in the world at the end of the game.”

It’s hard to take because the Suns know they have it in them.

This wasn’t a game because Phoenix was playing out of its mind. It was a playoff-style back-and-forth, and the Suns just couldn’t respond when their lead became a two-point deficit.

Phoenix outscored Los Angeles 42-40 in the paint and held them to a reasonable 46.8 percent shooting. Channing Frye got going, finally. The Suns crashed the offensive glass behind P.J. Tucker’s 10 points and 11 rebounds and Miles Plumlee’s strong 13-point, 7-rebound outing. They recorded 23 second-chance points to just 12 for the Clippers, and the bench got strong nights from the Morris twins and Gerald Green.

This is how it didn’t matter: After 24 seconds of solid defense by the Suns, Chris Paul drilled a deep three with the 24-second clock running out to give the Clippers their sixth score in five possessions from the 4:47 mark of the fourth quarter to the 1:47 mark.

“That three, that is one of (those) nails in the coffin,” Dragic said.

On the next Los Angeles possession, the Clippers crashed the glass twice to finally score on a seventh possession in a row.

The Suns’ only scores in the final four minutes came on Eric Bledsoe drives, but a game-tying attempt with 10 seconds left was blocked back into Bledsoe, whose momentum had taken him out of bounds. Bledsoe played only 30 minutes and got into early foul trouble defending Paul, his former mentor. He also earned a technical for a questionable charge call drawn by former Sun Jared Dudley.

Meanwhile, Paul made his biggest contribution on the defensive end, tangling often with Goran Dragic, who made a living at the foul stripe — he even drew a tech on Paul — but went 2-for-11 from the floor.

“You gotta give (Darren) Collison and Chris Paul some credit,” Hornacek said. “They didn’t let our guys penetrate. Kind of a tale of two sides there. We couldn’t penetrate and they did.”

Added Dragic: “We should play like that. Sometimes, refs, they cannot call every foul and you can still be aggressive. Tough game for us.”

So on the Suns march with this game’s lessons in mind, though with seven difficult games left, they wish they could march in the month by that name. Or February. Or January.

Time is running out to take any more lessons like this.

“We told the guys — again, it’s like a broken record,” Hornacek said. “We tell them all the time, you can’t have a two or three minute lull against these top teams. End of the third quarter I think we were too casual, just taking some, ‘Oh let me get up a shot here.’

“All of a sudden they have it down to seven (point) with their subs in there. That’s really when the game changed.”

  • CarlyJoni

    Yes, time is running out. These next games are essentially the Suns’ postseason. Coach and co. have overachieved in this surprising year. Future looks very bright, but with a lack of dependable closers and go to superstars for this stretch, maybe a postseason is not in the cards this time. But Suns can still surprise, and I know they will keep playing their hearts out. Just need the intensity for this last stretch. And Clips need to return the favor by beating Dirk and co. tonight.

  • DBreezy

    “Those & a few more questions need to be answered in a very important up-coming off-season…..more important than the last month of this season.”

    Yes Hawki, in some ways McD’s honeymoon is coming to end. He’s a smart dude, so I’m sure he already knows that, although Tucker was nice enough to remind him of it with talk of his impending RFA during the last 7 games of a playoff chase.

    Outside of Goran, Bledsoe and the coaching staff, if you’re a GM how do you evaluate this team in the offseason? You can make valid arguments that several of the team’s players had career years and/or overachieved. They didn’t get to see enough of your first round picks because of the team’s success. You’ve got guys looking for extensions or RFA deals. There’s the question of what to do with Frye. Also what do you do if someone solid doesn’t slip #14 in the draft or you can’t trade up?

    All against the backdrop of a tough Western conference. 11 of the teams out West would qualify for the postseason in the East. 12 have at least 30 wins with a 13th (SAC) having a realistic shot at it. From an offseason eval standpoint, any of those squads could make the leap the Suns did this season. As a result, I think some of McD’s summer moves may be unpopular unless he gets a gift in the trade market. Otherwise, I tend to think he just resigns Bled (if he wants to be here), makes/develops his draft picks, and doesn’t do anything to mess with his cap numbers for 2015.

  • Voqar

    Bottom line – Suns should’ve played better. And could’ve played better. Again, horrific turnovers – many by Bledsoe (dribbling into quadruple teams, casually passing the ball to the other team repeatedly), multiple travels by the Morrii (really…how many times do we have to endure this at this level on a playoff contender!), bad passes by the whole team trying to force things and most of the time the person they’re attempting to pass to has no shot, no advantage, and it’s a pointless pass even if it DOES go thru.

    Beyond that…

    When the Suns play on the road, and maybe I’m a homer, but it seems like the refs give every call possible to the home team and they play 5 on 8 to win. Event he worst teams in the east (or especially those team) get amazing “home court advantage” from the refs. For road games “the big three” to me is the refs and they’re usually having an incredible game – for the home team.

    Yet the Suns NEVER seem to get similar treatment at home themselves. In fact, in the game last night, it was like LA was the home team. The refs made every possible call for LA and let LA get away with anything they wanted to.

    Dragic (or anybody remotely near) would barely brush CP3 and they’d be called for a foul. On the other end, CP3 knocks Dragic completely off balance with a body check as Dragic goes around him – no call. They called a few on CP3 in the first half – but in the second half they would NOT call a foul on him and it lead to him getting tons of steals (far easier to get steals and play smothering defense when you are never called for fouls, eh?).

    In one play Griffin plowed elbow first right thru Dragic while “setting a pick” If Frye (foul magnet) did that it’s an offensive foul – always – even if he’s plowing thru a 4th string guard. It would be a foul on Plumlee. It would be a foul on any Sun that did that. No call at all on Griffin, made basket for CP3.

    Further – CP3 is a really good player. So good that it’s just embarrassing as someone who loves hoops to watch the bush league antics he employs – playing the refs as much as playing hoops, and watching the idiotic refs gobble it up and give him call after call for nonsense like running in circles plowing into people – not doing anything remotely basketball related – just trying to “draw fouls” – and getting the calls over and over again.

    Dragic and many others employ the “get someone in the air and jump into them” thing to draw a foul, which itself is pretty lame. But Paul will regularly just plow into the nearest defender when going up for a layup or shot – and a lot of the time gets a foul called for him even though it’s not a natural basketball action and not good basketball – it’s just good manipulating of stupid rules and stupid refs.

    By 2/3′s thru the game Paul had the refs so much in his pocket he was ginobli-ing (flopping to the floor from any contact at all) to try to get a foul on Dragic.

    If you did that kind of punk BS in a pickup game (running around running into people butt first and calling “foul” or plowing into defenders every time you go for a shot) you’d be laughed off the court or someone would just beat you into the ground.

    If you did that kind of punk BS in college you’d just look like a fool since no ref would call it.

    But somehow at the highest level of basketball indulging in pure BS that has nothing to do with basketball and manipulating the moron refs who reward you with calls for the junk – that’s somehow good play and/or being a savvy vet.

    You can’t blame people like CP3 for manipulating the refs this way – it’s how the moronic system works. Plenty of other players do it too (Magic used to do it all the time – I hated it even then as a Bird fan). Sadly to be the best BASKETBALL player you can be in the NBA you have to excel at manipulating the pea brained refs – anything to win, right, even if it’s pure non-basketball BS.

    And that’s something the Suns historically have always failed at. Must be because we go for character guys who would consider that kind of junk to be lame and not basketball? Dunno. When the Suns do try to do this kind of thing they generally either fail or don’t get the call Nice guys finish last though and dirtbags like CP3 get more wins by screwing over the system.

    And it’s one thing to see CP3 and his team have the refs showing them unreasonable manlove in LA – but for them to get away with all of that garbage on OUR court is just beyond lame.

  • sunsn7

    “..finally Channing Frye got going”

    And of course that’s all that will be said about him. Real head scratcher.

  • sunsn7

    Voqar, they call it “gamesmanship” but you are right, the problem isn’t with the players who employ these tactics. It lies with the NBA itself. Stern always protected certain players from foul trouble (MJ, Kobe, Lebron, etc.) and Adam Silver might as well be Stern’s son.

    It’s not changing anytime soon as the NBA is fond of theatrics

  • sunsn7

    Excellent points DBreezy, im willing to exhibit patience for the upcoming season as far as FA acquisitions and the real possibility of the Suns standing pat this summer in the FA market. The exception being of course, the Suns own FA. Dont think that’s a good look by Tucker bringing up the issue of his expiring contract during the dead heat of a playoff chase..but Suns would be wise to keep him, he wants to be here and believe he will re-sign here for a reasonable and fair price for both sides.

    Bledsoe? I want him here but hope he is willing to sign below the max. I could see Green leaving as much as I’d hate to see that. Frye? Don’t get me started again.

    Im already accepting the fact the Suns might not be as good as this years team but am willing to go through it if that means Hornacek is gonna coach up Goodwin, Len, and incoming rookies, and give them more significant roles on this team. We’ll see what McD has I store.

    We all know Julius Randle isn’t coming to Phoenix this summer.

  • DZ

    @DBreezy – I agree about the off-season. Unless another team makes the Suns a trade offer they just can’t refuse, I don’t see McD making any big moves. The biggest move I see coming may be a trade to move up in the draft. Other than that, a few minor trades and simply developing the draft picks might be it while the Suns keep an eye on the big free agency market during the next off-season.

  • Al

    Team has no killer instinct. A 17 point lead in the 3rd quarter and 13 going into the 4th squandered by lousy shot selection and turn overs from travels. I am getting the feeling that Bledsoe has no desire to go to the playoffs this year. More games this season would mean a highe chance to get injured. EB is looking to get paid and trying to go on a Play off run is risky for him. It’s was embarrassing how Phoenix made Collison and Barnes look like top 20 players. This team can’t defend slashers and can’t defend bigs with low post offense. What good is protecting the 3 point line if you give easy 2 points and second chance attempts?

  • Brenton

    Suns have a ton of assets made for trades, but you have to wonder who they are trading for.

    Too many teams have lots of cap room and draft picks. Bledsoe will resign, and a full season of Bledsoe and Dragic undoubtedly gets the Suns to the playoffs next year.

    Frye needs to go. How he stays in the top 25 in +/- every year I have no idea, but he infuriates me every time he steps onto the court.

  • DZ

    But NOT playing hard to make a playoff run is also risky for Bledsoe IF he actually is just looking ahead to his next payday. There are no teams that I can think of that are better than or equal to the Suns that are really in the market for a PG. Yeah, there was a Laker troll here a while back claiming that they were going to make him a max offer to either steal him away or make the Suns overpay to keep him but does anyone take that crap seriously? And if Bledsoe really wants to leave his best bet is to just accept the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted FA at the end of next season. If he does that and give the Suns’ FO a clear message that he wants to leave, they will do whatever they can to trade him next season before he just leaves.

    I think that unless something unexpected happens (like another injury), Len will be the Suns starting center next season and Plumlee will be where he will play best in the NBA, a backup center. Len missed summer league, the entire preseason and a lot of the early season while recovering from surgery. He’s really had little time to really even practice with the team yet. And we’ve only seen flashes of what Archie can do so far. I think that has been because Gerald Green has been playing so well.

    The direction the Suns will be going in the future will become clearer after the draft.

  • Luka

    What do you guys think of a sign and trade? Move Bledsoe for a legitimate SG and maybe a draft pick. Suns can focus their spending on getting that PF and C they desperately need.

  • EBJM

    I’m not sold on Bledsoe either. Sure he has had his moments but he will cost too much for a guy who hasn’t made it through a whole season as a starter.

    Then factor in guys like Darren Collison and Reggie Jackson stepping up when it counts at a fraction of the cost and……….

  • Dave:f32

    4/4@Trail Blazers – L
    10:00 PM
    4/6vs. Thunder – L
    9:00 PM
    4/9@ Pelicans – W
    8:00 PM
    4/11@ Spurs – W
    8:30 PM
    4/12@ Mavericks – L
    8:30 PM
    4/14 vs. Grizzlies – L
    10:00 PM
    4/16@ Kings – L
    10:30 PM

    Doesn’t look too promising for our “young” Suns.

    Given the way they have played recently, it’s hardly a stretch of predicting how they will do against teams that they have already played earlier in the season.