Suns 109, Clippers 103 – Not exactly primetime


If an NBA game happens, but everybody else is watching football, does the game still count?

In case you weren’t aware or just didn’t care, the Suns actually did play this afternoon in Los Angeles while you were worrying about the NFL playoffs.

They even eked out a victory, 109-103 over the Clippers, in a game like the Clippers contest last week that was much closer than it should have been

It seemed like nobody was into this 12:30 p.m. PT tip time.

I know I found myself flipping back and forth between the Eagles-Giants game during the first half, and I was preoccupied by trying (and failing) to buy Cardinals NFC Championship Game tickets during the third quarter.

Suns broadcaster Scott Williams sure sounded like he’d rather be watching another game with the frequent NFL updates he was giving, prompting his broadcast partner Tom Leander to crack he’ll stay focused on the Suns-Clippers game so Williams can worry about football.

The game also had a who cares feel to it around Staples Center from the scattered fans and empty seats to the fact that the Suns postgame show hurriedly wrapped up around 4:15 p.m. MST, less than three hours after tipoff so that the stadium crew could change the floor for the primetime matchup between Shaq’s former sidekicks, D-Wade and the Heat against Kobe and the Lakers.

“It was a tough game to get up for,” Steve Nash told The Arizona Republic.

Just like in the first Clippers game when the Suns jumped out to a 33-15 lead, Phoenix sprinted out to a 12-0 lead three minutes into this one as the Clippers committed turnover after turnover while the Suns executed on the other end.

But this one never turned into the laugher it should have been as Los Angeles immediately responded with a 14-2 run to tie things up and answered every Suns run before Phoenix finally spurted out to a 9-0 run in the final three minutes to break a 100-100 tie.

Also as in the game nine days ago, the Clippers were missing Baron Davis, Zach Randolph and Chris Kaman.

That means Brian Skinner, who couldn’t crack the Suns’ rotation last year, played 39 minutes, Mardy the career 37 percent shooter Collins logged 36 and the same Fred Jones who was watching the NBA on his couch like you and me before Dec. 28 earned 30 minutes of court time.

Oh yeah, and did I mention the Clippers entered this contest as losers of 10 in a row, going winless since Dec. 19, and having lost their last two games by a combined 49 points?

After the Suns tore apart the Mavericks with the best performance of the season Friday night and with the way they started this one I would have expected more of the same, but instead Phoenix actually needed a late rally to pull this one out.

“I was disappointed in some stretches in the game where we really had a chance to extend the lead,” head coach Terry Porter told “We had a lot of loose possessions offensively, guys took some quick shots that were not warranted. The guys fought back and we had some guys make some plays down the stretch and did a good job defensively down the stretch when we needed to.”

No Suns reserve played even 20 minutes, so that left all the heavy lifting to the starters, which is also disappointing when considering the opponent.

But every starter scored at least 14 points, and with Barbosa’s 10 the Suns put six players in double figures.

Those starters all put up fairly gaudy numbers, with Amare going for a team-high 26 on 10-for-13 shooting, Grant Hill and J-Rich adding 21, Shaq 15 and 10 and Nash 14 points, 12 assists, five boards and more charges than I can count.

More importantly than those numbers, I’d give my game balls to Hill and Nash because the Suns were plus 23 with Hill on the floor and plus 22 with Nash. Shaq was a plus 15, but Amare was just at a plus two and J-Rich plus six.

Before taking the time to rag on the defense of Amare and Richardson by virtue of that stat and when considering both played very well on offense, they were the only two Suns to log 41 minutes and thus they played the most time with Phoenix’s reserves, all of whom were often present when the Clippers made their runs.

One more bright spot from this game involved the stellar free-throw shooting of Shaq, who is starting to challenge Nash for the title of best free-throw shooter on the team.

OK, that’s a complete exaggeration, but O’Neal did hit all five of his free throws in this one after nailing all seven against the Mavs and is now shooting 85 percent from the line this month on 20 attempts. Take a second to comtemplate that.

He hasn’t missed a foul shot since the Jan. 2 game against the Clippers, which isn’t exactly as long as Nash’s streak but still means he’s hit 12 in a row.

And Mike Dunleavy wasn’t exactly considering Hack-a-Shaq after this one.

“We can’t foul him and just expect him to miss because things aren’t like they used to be,” Dunleavy told

Isn’t that the truth, but in a world where Shaq is becoming a potent free-throw shooter shouldn’t the Suns at least be able to beat the Clippers by double digits?