Suns take gritty win over Clippers to pull into playoff position
This is what April is supposed to feel like: players recklessly diving to the floor for loose balls and a slew of hard fouls. Games clicking down to the final buzzer before a winner walks off the court, one game closer to the playoffs.
With 63 games behind them and three left in the regular season, the Phoenix Suns scrapped their way to an ugly 93-90 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night at US Airways Arena to move back into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. With Steve Nash's turnover total matching his assists (six), Sebastian Telfair's block with seven seconds left and Robin Lopez's Flagrant 2 foul resulting in an ejection, the Suns went off-script and came up with a win.
• In a game billed as a "point guard showcase," the matchup started as more of an afterthought than the best the Western Conference has to offer. Chris Paul opened 1-6 for two points and two assists in the first half, while Nash's four points and two assists was hardly a standout performance either.
With control of the game bouncing between the two teams (20 lead changes), Phoenix and L.A. returned to the script with their point guards directing the final six minutes of play. Paul scored eight of his game-high 19 points in the final six minutes. Nash countered, scoring six points in the same frame, including a game-tying jumper with 4:40 to play. Despite slow and uncharacteristic starts, each guard stepped up as his respective team's leader, Nash's side coming up with the win.
• The pivotal final six minutes of play began with a Flagrant 2 foul on Lopez, who became the latest Clipper opponent ejected for a hard foul on Blake Griffin. Griffin's two trips to the line came after two tough fouls down low, the first courtesy of Marcin Gortat, who accidentally caught Griffin in the eye. The referees took their time reviewing the play that left Griffin in what has become a familiar sight, squirming on the floor under the basket. While the play began as a standard defense of the basket on a fast break, Lopez's arm reached across Griffin's body and ended up striking his head and neck in the process. Lopez left the court to a shower of applause, as the Phoenix crowd was suddenly reminded that this game had significant playoff implications for the Suns. The team responded to the energy boost from the crowd and rode it to a win.
• Though it's unlikely anything will be certain until the last day of the regular season, Thursday's game meant something to the playoff hopes of both the Clippers and Suns. With this win over the Clippers, coupled with Houston's loss in New Orleans, the Suns moved up a half-game and are now tied with Utah for the eighth seed in the West. Fun note: The Jazz and Suns face off on Tuesday.
As for the Clippers, they had a chance to tie the Lakers for first place in the Pacific Division, but came up short. The Lakers have taken the honor each of the past four seasons, breaking the Suns' three-season streak from 2004-07.
• After a strong first quarter, Griffin went scoreless for 29 minutes before hitting a free throw to end the drought. Ending the first quarter with 14 points and four rebounds, he added only two more points over the next 36 minutes.
Griffin sat for a long stretch in the second quarter, leaving the game with 9:30 left in the quarter and not returning until 3:20 remained. While it's understandable the guy will need a rest, Vinny Del Negro's decision to keep him out of the game for that period was a decision he's unlikely to make again. Although the Clippers' bench kept the game close, Griffin entered the game cold, and with only three minutes to warm up before halftime. Caron Butler scored a quick six points to start the third quarter, and the Clippers never returned to establishing Griffin early in the shot clock. He became a non-factor (other than a foul recipient) down the stretch.
• As noted above, Nash's assist-to-turnover ration was a dreadful, but he wasn't the only Phoenix player with butter fingers. The Suns coughed the ball up 16 times, leading to 24 points for the Clippers. Meanwhile, Paul only turned the ball over only once while dishing out 10 assists.