Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry elected to sit his two team captains, Steve Nash and Grant Hill, in the second game of three in three nights, and the Suns battled back from a 17 point second quarter deficit to get the surprising win over the Clippers in LA, 91-87.
Shannon Brown looked right at home as the former Laker went for 21 in the game, aggressively driving to the basket and drawing fouls for 10 FTAs, and hitting 3-5 of his shots from 3. Jared Dudley went for 11 and 6, and the Suns had nine players score at least 6 points. Sebastian Telfair made a huge steal of Chris Paul with under a minute to go to help seal the deal.
At times tonight, the Clippers looked like they were pulling away, but it's clear their talented team is still lacking maturity. There was a lot of chippy play, whining to the officials, a technical foul on Blake Griffin and the Clippers appeared entirely overconfident in letting an undermanned Suns team hang around and steal the game at the end.
Win or lose, this was the kind of game that pointed to a Suns team that has fight and grit. That they were able to pull off the improbable win must act as a huge confidence boost to a group of bench players who desperately need it. This game was a best case scenario: getting the win, resting Nash and Hill, and giving backups a chance to shine.
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The game started with the Suns launching 3s and playing little defense. With Hill out, Chris Paul was free to find his teammates for easy looks and pull up for jumpers seemingly at will. Blake Griffin scored 8 points as the Clippers jumped to a 29-17 advantage after one. Meanwhile the Suns struggled to get anything but long range jumpers, and Gortat was held scoreless.
It was in the second quarter that it looked like the Clippers started to take this game for granted. The Suns second unit of Ronnie Price, Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Markieff Morris and Robin Lopez brought the Suns back to within 37-30 with 6:06 remaining in the half as the Clippers announcers spent most of the quarter patting themselves on the back over the Nick Young acquisition. Yay, Wizards rejects! But I digress.
After a Kenyon Martin jumper was followed by 6 consecutive Griffin points, DeAndre Jordan threw down a dunk, and the lead was up to 47-30. The Suns looked finished.
We can discuss the wisdom of sitting Nash and Hill tonight all we want, but it was a decision made by those who are much more knowledgeable about the situation than we are, and with a bigger view than just tonight's game. Did it seem like "running up the white flag", a term I used in the preview? Yes, it did.
And maybe that's how the Clippers took it because they allowed the Suns to score the final 9 points of the half, including 4 by Shannon Brown and with a monster jam by Markieff Morris providing the exclamation point as the Suns had new life going into the half at 47-39.
Marcin Gortat, held scoreless in the first half, got himself going with 8 points in the third as the Suns continued to make modest runs only to be pushed back by Clipper bursts, and the Clippers took a 75-64 lead into the third.
But they just couldn't finish. Stingy Suns defense, much of it a zone that left the Clippers discombobulated, held the Clippers to only 3 points through the first 5:23 of the quarter as the Suns narrowed the gap to 78-76. The Suns also resorted to hack-a-Blake near the end of the game, daring the Clippers to make FTs, which they did not, converting only 5-12 in the game.
Again, the Clippers look immature. Missing FTs? Complaining to the refs? Failing to close out a team that was only kinda sorta trying to win? If they can't do that, don't expect them to do much damage in the playoffs.
Nine converted 3-point shots played a key for the Suns as Morris, Frye and Brown each hit one in the game's final 5:07, and Brown scored the Suns last 7 points to complete the improbable comeback.
The win lifts the Suns to 21-22 on the season, 10th place in the West, 1/2 game behind 9th and 2 1/2 behind the 8th and final playoff spot.
This is getting fun, isn't it?