Los Angeles Clippers 117, Phoenix Suns 99 — Fourth-quarter meltdown


The Phoenix Suns played three solid quarters, but still finished with the same result as their previous six games in their 117-99 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

After never trailing by more than seven during a back-and-forth first three quarters in which the Suns answered every Clippers blow, Los Angeles turned this into a rout by going on a 15-2 run early in the fourth quarter to turn away the Suns’ upset bid.

Jamal Crawford could not be stopped in that final period in which the Clippers outscored Phoenix 32-16, as he nearly bettered the Suns’ total on his own with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with two assists. Incredibly, all the damage was done by the Clippers’ potent reserve corps.

“I said it already, we have to stop the turnovers and slow down their bench,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “It is like what I said pre-game, their bench is what got them separation not their starters. It was Matt [Barnes], [Eric] Bledsoe, Lamar [Odom], [Ronny] Turiaf, and Jamal [Crawford] when they went on their run; there was not one starter on the floor when that happened.”

Gentry may not have known how to stop it, but his pre-game worry did indeed become a reality. Every LA bench player that logged significant time finished with a plus/minus equal to or greater than any starter, led by Matt Barnes’ plus 20 in 28 minutes and Jamal Crawford’s plus 18 in 33.

What’s scary for the rest of the Western Conference is that these deep Clips were missing Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill in this one. I don’t know how Vinny Del Negro is going to balance all those minutes when everyone is at full strength, but that’s surely a better problem to have than many on Gentry’s plate these days.

As for the turnovers, that was an issue all game but the Suns were good enough in other areas to offset it until the fourth. Phoenix coughed it up 20 times and yielded 30 points off those miscues. Against a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, that’s a recipe for defeat.

The Suns’ big lineup move — inserting Jared Dudley into the starting lineup at the three spot for Michael Beasley — worked to a degree. Beasley played one of his best offensive games of the season, scoring a team-high 21 points on an un-Beasley-like 7-for-11 shooting. He single-handedly kept the Suns in the game in the second quarter when he scorched the rims for a white-hot 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

Beasley was in the kind of zone we have seldom seen him in. He seemed to be making everything, providing the Suns with the go-to scorer they so desperately want him to become.

But he was never able to find that same rhythm in the second half as he attempted just three shots in 14:53 and scored a mere three points. Obviously the Clippers focused on taking him out of this game, but the Suns needed two superlative halves out of Beasley to steal this contest. They only got one.

Despite the hot shooting, the Suns were still much better when he sat. They lost 21 points in his 30 minutes, which means they beat the Clippers when he wasn’t on the floor.

“I have been coming off the bench my whole career: my rookie year and last year in Minnesota,” Beasley said about his bench role. “Coach is just trying to find a solution right now because we are in a losing streak. He is trying to find a solution to keep us all in the game, and not just keep us in the game, but find a way for us to win games.”

That is something the Suns have been unable to do of late. They got a few solid performances aside from Beasley, but they just never seem to have enough players playing well in the same game. Luis Scola put up 18 and 10 on 8-for-11 shooting without even playing a full 24 minutes. Shannon Brown poured in 19 although he needed 16 shots to do it while playing 40 minutes with P.J. Tucker sitting this one out because of a sprained knee.

On the flip side, the Suns’ point guards did nothing of note, with Goran Dragic scoring a mere eight points on 2-for-7 shooting to go with only five assists and Bassy Telfair going scoreless in 21:41. Jared Dudley started but only played 18:17 (he was fine when he played, he just didn’t get much run) and Marcin Gortat went for six and three while taking only three shots in 24 minutes.

Few people expected the Suns to contend for a playoff spot, but at this rate their season will essentially be over by New Year’s. Their losing streak has now reached six games, and it’s hard to see any move Gentry can make to significantly turn this around.

It was nice to see Beasley respond to his benching with a strong offensive performance, but the Suns’ issues are bigger than anything a lineup change can solve.

“It is what it is and the guys will play through it,” Gentry said. “If we are going to get out of this, we have to work our way out of it. In this league no one feels sorry for you. It is not a pity league. If you’re down and you want to get yourself out of it, then you have to work yourself out of it. We have to do it collectively as a group: coaches and players and all others involved. We have to be the ones to work ourselves out of this losing streak.”