The road to the playoffs continues to be a bumpy one for the Phoenix Suns. Another day and another loss to a Pacific Division rival drops Phoenix to 36-27 and a full half-game behind Memphis for the 8th seed in the playoffs. The Clippers advance to 45-20 with their eighth win in a row and a tie for third place in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets.
Though Phoenix only lost by 7 points (112-105) and managed to cut the lead to 4 with 32.5 seconds left in the game, it wasn't ever really that close. Phoenix trailed by double digits throughout the game. In the first half, they seemed to be trying to out-suck themselves at both ends of the court, shooting 36.5% while allowing a generous 61.5% percentage to Los Angeles Clippers.
Phoenix did their best to make this a game in the fourth quarter, but Blake Griffin put them in an early hole and they failed to get out of it. The entire Suns team had only one more point that Griffin himself in the first quarter. Blake played like a man possessed, scoring 37 points on 14-16 shooting before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Goran Dragić was a non-factor in the first half as the Suns fell behind by 21, scoring only 3 points while picking up 3 fouls. In the second half, he was THE factor for the Suns, scoring 20 points and nearly leading a most unlikely comeback. He must have stolen Gerald Green's mojo. After driving the Suns' offense to the tune of 13 first half points, he only scored 3 in the second half. P.J. Tucker was the only Sun who played 4 solid quarters of basketball, notching his 9th double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) before getting ejected for scuffling with Griffin.
Phoenix gets a day to lick its back-to-back wounds before taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Blake Griffin. That's all you really need to know about the first quarter. He scored 22 of LA's 34 points in the period. The entire Suns lineup combined for 23. Goran Dragić and Channing Frye both saw limited minutes after picking up 2 fouls apiece.
The foul trouble continued in the second quarter with Dragić picking up his 3rd foul 2minutes in. Archie Goodwin was pressed into service. Highlights did not ensue. Ball control and defense continued to be an issue for Phoenix. The rotations looked off and players were missing their assignments in transition as the Clippers extended their lead to 20.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, Blake Griffin did not take the rest of the game off after his first quarter pyrotechnics. Nor did he show any mercy, scoring on 3 consecutive buckets. Fortunately, Goran Dragić realized the only way they could stop Blake Griffin was to get him off the court by drawing Griffin's 3rd personal, thereby limiting him to only 29 first half points.
The box score says the Suns only had 9 first half turnovers, but it felt like 20. Gerald Green lead Phoenix with 13 points at the break. Going into halftime, the Clippers lead Phoenix 62-45 in points and 61.5-36.4 in shooting percentage.
OMG. So much Blake Griffin. Say what you will about Channing Frye's defense, but the only thing that seemed like it might work defensively would have been sealing Blake Griffin in concrete 100 feet below the surface of the earth. And even then he would have found a way to hit a 20 footer. The hot shooting was contagious as the Clips shot 60% for the quarter. Griffin would finish the quarter with 8 more points to bring his total to 37.
After going without a field goal in the first half, Goran Dragić did what he could to #ignitetheoffense early in the half, but he was not getting much help. With 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, LA had built up a 25 point lead with no signs of slowing down. Markieff Morris hit a 3 pointer and Blake Griffin missed his 2nd shot of the game (he missed it through no fault of the Suns' defense) which allowed a Dragić lay-up and free throw to cut the lead to 19.
Given the way the first half had gone, I really thought that was as close as Phoenix would get. And then wouldn't you know it, a couple of stops (and Blake Griffin's 4th foul!) later, the Suns managed to cut the lead to 11. Dragić had 12 points and Tucker had 8 to lead the rally. A Matt Barnes 3-pointer ended the quarter with Phoenix trailing 90-76.
The 4th quarter started the same as the 3rd with the Suns giving ground and watching LA inflate their cushion to 21. And well, we can talk about how the Suns cut the lead down to 10, but the real story of the 4th quarter was THE ALTERCATION. Blake Griffin and P.J. Tucker were battling in the paint when they both went down. It looked like Griffin had pushed/fallen on top of Tucker. Tucker hit Griffin in the face and earned himself a loose ball foul and ejection. I thought Griffin should have been T'ed up at least, and it seemed like he initiated the contact that caused them to go to the ground in the first place. Them's the breaks.
To everyone's surprise, 2 minutes later Blake Griffin would foul out on what I can only call a stellar charge taken by Markieff Morris. Two Dragić lay-ups later, the Suns only trailed by 6 points with 2:20 remaining. Alas, the best the Suns could do was get within 4 points. After that it was fouls and free throws and Clippers hung on to win the game 112-105.
* I'm good with P.J. Tucker never leading another fastbreak again this season. That said, he is going to get PAID next season. I hope Phoenix finds a way to keep him.
* Speaking of fast breaks, the Clippers pulled the rare feat of running the Suns out of the gym, outscoring Phoenix 26-21 in fast-break points
* Blake Griffin is a for-real superstar. No longer does he rely on dunks and athleticism alone to get his points. He was hitting from everywhere regardless of whether or not there was a hand in his face or he was wide open.
* Alex Len and Archie Goodwin continue to demonstrate why their minutes are limited. I have no doubt they will blossom into excellent players, but they are still not quite ready for prime time.
* Danny Granger looks like he was a very good pick-up for the Clippers.
* I predicted a 112-107 loss. Much closer with this than I was with the rest of the Suns' season.