Possibly the most important moment for the Suns took place early on in the first quarter, but it was over in Memphis. To the surprise of myself and many others, the Grizzlies won their second consecutive game, this time over the Trail Blazers without their star point guard Damian Lillard.
However, this moment is very significant for the Suns because now they hold at least a 2-game lead on all other teams in the reverse standings. Atlanta has now moved up to the No. 2 slot while Memphis is bumped back a spot.
Facing off against a Clippers team fighting for a playoff spot, including Phoenix missing Devin Booker and T.J. Warren due to injury themselves, this result was expected but there were some solid moments in tonight’s outing.
Suns - Tyler Ulis, Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss
Clippers - Austin Rivers, Tyrone Wallace, Tobias Harris, Wesley Johnson, DeAndre Jordan
It all started off with how it’s been going lately for Bender with a wide-open three-pointer clanking off the front iron. It’s looked obvious lately, but Bender’s lift on his shot is shorter and showing signs of hitting a wall of fatigue. So far in Bender’s young career, he’s never logged consistent starter minutes yet. It continues to be the case after Triano talked to Bender after the Cleveland game last week, but his continued shyness on offense needs to be addressed by whoever is his coaching staff this offseason.
Even though Bender continues to lose energy, Ulis is going the opposite direction. He continued his strong play with one of his best performances of the season, again, as that trademarked waterbug-like quickness showed up more than I’ve seen. Ulis has been battling nagging injuries all season and finally looks healthy. If the Suns pick up his option this summer, he easily could be a candidate to stick on next year’s roster.
Jackson also continued his more efficient play in the first half, but his mistakes were showing more at the end. Two of his last four possessions were turnovers caused by him. However, that connection he has on-court with Ulis is continuing to blossom, especially in transition.
In the first 9 minutes, Jackson was already up to 9 points and 3 assists but curtailed off when he sat out for more than 7 minutes of game time as Davon Reed and Shaquille Harrison helped keep their lead.
Jackson and Ulis each led Phoenix with 9 apiece, but LA was still able to get whatever shots they wanted at will, to be honest.
At the end of the first quarter, the Suns actually led the Clippers, 32-27.
At the start of the second, it quickly began with a Chriss moment we are growing accustomed to seeing: Him making a mistake but immediately making up for it on the other end. This time, Chriss missed a wide-open dunk with an empty lane of any Clipper bigs but seconds later he helped off to swat away a shot on the weak side.
Speaking more on Chriss’ rim protection, that has shown itself through more recently during his stretch of positive play. Compared to Bender, Chriss might be more suited long-term to be their rim protector helper if they draft or sign a big in late June / early July.
By the way, I’m already quickly enjoying the duo of Reed and Harrison on defense. Not only are they two smart, instinctual defenders but they bring a spark to the Suns’ guard rotation together that lacks elsewhere. The length and versatility of this duo give me hope of seeing it more often during next season with better shooters around them.
Both Reed and Harrison had multiple steals in their short time out there.
Even though the young Suns had moments, the Clippers still got wherever they wanted as they pleased. At one point, they shot over 50% on 2s and 3s, but it tailed off over the last two minutes of the half.
Halftime: Clippers 58, Suns 56
No surprise here, but the better overall team seemed more inspired to open this half. Whatever Doc Rivers must have said worked because their effort on both ends was apparent from the jump.
And also, no surprise, Jackson attempts two three-pointers less than 90 seconds into the quarter. He is getting more comfortable without Booker and Warren out there, but it’s obvious he tends to press for shots.
As I type that out, Jackson soars at the rim for a block. Then, he almost got Sam Dekker on another, but there was nobody there to help him.
Chriss has done a great job protecting the rim tonight, especially on shots that someone with his athleticism should normally be able to contest. He just soared above the rim on Dekker, but the Suns were unable to capitalize off of that sequence.
I’ll continue to preach this sentiment until September when training camp rolls around, but once Jackson gains more mass on his frame he’s going to be a problem finishing through contact.
The big thing, though, is Jackson continuing to take low percentage shots. Jackson took a stepback three-pointer early in the shot clock there. That should be eliminated out of his game more once actually talent that fits around him is present this fall.
In only 21 minutes, Chriss is already up to 10 rebounds. Over the past four games, Chriss has treated this like an evaluation period it seems. He’s not only running often on both ends and using his energy to his advantage, but Bender continues his complacency.
While one young Sun seems to be ascending back towards how he looked in December, one is stagnating. Bender just recently had to look down to see if he was behind the three-point line before he shot it.
He needs to just shoot it and not think about it, but will that ever change?
Harrison continues to be a spark plug in tonight’s game. Not only has he been smothering Lou Williams, but he’s aggressively driving towards the rim every chance he gets. That’s an encouraging sign for what’s to come with him.
Jackson and Ulis were key over the past few minutes of the third to bring their double-digit lead back down to only three.
End 3rd: Clippers 85, Suns 82
Opening up the fourth quarter, Los Angeles started out on a quick 6-0 run causing Triano to burn another timeout.
With Tobias Harris already up to 27 points on 10-16 field goals with 10 minutes left, we all realize what script is being followed. Los Angeles is likely to expand their lead up even further.
Outside of Harris, Jordan was up to 13 points and 15 rebounds on 5-8 field goals. Not only Jordan, but also Rivers, Wallace, and Williams chipped in double-digit production for the Clippers on this night.
No surprise, the Clippers just brought the lead back up above that threshold, as Phoenix’s defense continued to wilt.
The Suns have now lost their 13th straight game, 28 of their last 30.
That draft pick needs to work out for this plan for the Suns to work. The pressure is already amassing on whoever it will be to be an immediate impact alongside Booker and Jackson to help steer the ship towards winning basketball.