This was definitely one for the true fans. No Devin Booker. No Chris Paul. No Deandre Ayton. Not even Jae Crowder. Just Mikal Bridges and the Phoenix Suns bench against a .500-ish Los Angeles Clippers team in a game with nothing particularly on the line.
Mikal Bridges being the only regular starter on the floor to start things off definitely showed early, as the Suns offense was a bit more frenzied and chaotic than we are used to seeing. They also didn’t shoot that well out of the gate, starting just 9/24 from the floor and 2/11 from downtown in the first quarter. That said, the bench Suns played with a lot of energy on both ends and Bridges did a good job leading the way. It was the definition of a bench game early, with nine suns seeing the court in the first quarter alone.
The Clippers, playing a lineup much more in line with their expected playoff look, weren’t able to pull away in the opening quarter despite some crisp early play from Paul George and Reggie Jackson.
Torrey Craig fouled Robert Covington hard on a chasedown block attempt early in the second quarter, and Covington initially looked hurt, but popped back up. The foul was ruled common upon review, but it briefly got the otherwise fairly subdued Los Angeles crowd riled up with a chorus of boos.
At this point the Clippers began to establish some separation, putting together a 21-0 run, and it felt like the rout was pretty much on. Cam Payne was having a tough time, and the Suns just were not clicking despite their energy. It was clear that they lacked the offensive firepower they needed.
The Suns’ first half shooting numbers were about as ugly as you’ll ever see, a cringeworthy 13/46 and 3/21 from downtown. Yikes. They scored only 9 points in the second quarter, a season low. Double yikes. Bridges was the “star” on offense with 9 points on 3/6 shooting.
For the Clippers, Norman Powell had a fantastic beginning to his return after missing 22 games with a broken foot. The veteran wing, acquired from Portland in a Feb. 4 trade, led Los Angeles into the locker room with 17 points on a perfect 6/6 shooting Paul George notched 14.
60-31 Clippers at the half.
As much as you hate to say it, the Suns initially looked like they were mailing in the second half. Their offensive possessions were hurried and their defensive rotations and hustle weren’t there, giving the Clippers a ton of easy buckets and letting them stretch the lead to 71-36 in just the first three minutes of the third quarter before Monty mercifully called a timeout.
Then something changed. The game went from looking like it might be a 40 point thrashing tightened up. The Suns kept playing as the Clippers seemingly took their feet off the gas, and the lead shrank to 11 with 4 minutes left. It still didn’t ever feel like they had a particularly realistic shot at winning, but it was nice they made the effort and against the odds it actually was competitive in the end. Iffe Lundberg got his first career NBA bucket.
Also on the plus side, ESPN analyst Doris Burke, not known as a Suns superfan, said she thought Devin Booker should be First Team All-NBA and the broadcast team acknowledged his legitimate candidacy for MVP. So that’s also something.
Ish Wainwright went off, leading the Suns with 20 points on 8/14 shooting shattering his season and career high of 10. He also grabbed 8 boards and notched 3 steals. Bismack Biyombo had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Powell had 24 for the Clippers, Paul had 19.
It’s never nice to see your team lose, even in a rest game when you’ve got the top playoff seed to look forward to. Falling behind by a more than 30 point margin was also a little hard to stomach before the improbable near comeback, but what can you say? This was not a normal game.
Personally, I’m not reading anything into this one other than the Suns bench guys aren’t as good as the Clippers top lineup. The Suns wisely got some rest for their starters. They know what their ultimate goal is this season and it has very little to do with beating the Clippers in one zero stakes game.
The Suns are off to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz Friday.