Rapid Reaction: Clippers 104, Suns 96
March, 4, 2014
By Jovan Buha | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
The biggest difference between the last time the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns faced off in late December and their matchup Tuesday night was Blake Griffin's offensive evolution.
It was on display from the opening tip, when Griffin contributed to four of the Clippers' first five scoring possessions by either scoring or facilitating in the open court. It was also featured late, when the Clippers fed him on the block and he faced up and banked in a clutch jumper to help secure a 104-96 win over a scrappy Suns squad.
Arguably the second-biggest difference, however, was the promotion of Matt Barnes into the starting lineup.
Barnes, who has scored in double figures in nine of his past 12 games, was the key difference-maker, scoring a season-high 28 points (12-of-17 shooting, 4-of-7 on 3-pointers) and, more important, helping a disjointed Clippers offense tread water through the first three quarters.
"We just need to pick each other up," Barnes told Fox Sports Prime Ticket after the game. "It's not going to be Blake and Chris [Paul] every night. We've got a lot of weapons. ... We've just got to keep moving the ball and find what works for us."
What worked was a starters-heavy attack, as the entire starting lineup scored in double figures and played 37-plus minutes. The Clippers (42-20) had been mentioning for days that they sought payback against the Suns (35-25) for an embarrassing 107-88 loss at Staples Center on Dec. 30, and that's exactly what they got Tuesday.
How it happened: Los Angeles jumped out to a 22-14 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter, but it didn't last. Phoenix amped up its perimeter defense -- the Suns forced nine turnovers, including four from Paul -- and found its offensive touch to take a 55-44 lead into intermission.
But Barnes and Griffin combined to score 30 of the Clippers' 37 third-quarter points, and L.A. quickly built a 15-point lead in the beginning of the fourth. The Suns made a late run and cut the deficit to three, but the Clippers' defense and Griffin's jumper sealed the game.
What it means: With Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and Golden State all winning Tuesday, the Clippers badly needed a win to keep pace with the rest of the West. The rest of their week is less intense -- they play the Los Angeles Lakers as the road team Thursday and the Atlanta Hawks at home on Saturday -- but just as important.
Hits: Griffin had 22 points (9-of-18 shooting), five rebounds and six assists. Darren Collison chipped in with 18 points (6-of-10 shooting), five assists and three steals. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
The Clippers held the Suns to 42.5 percent shooting in the second half.
L.A. shot 8-of-20 from beyond the arc.
Misses: Paul had five turnovers, which partially negated his 14 points and nine assists.
The Suns' bench outscored the Clippers' bench 37-12.
Among the newcomers, Danny Granger was missed his only shot in four minutes, and Glen Davis had nearly a foul every two minutes (four fouls in nine minutes).
Stat of the game: After turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, the Clippers had only five second-half turnovers.
Up next: The Clippers get a day off before facing the Lakers (21-39) on Thursday. Last time the two L.A. teams met, the Clippers obliterated their purple-and-gold rivals 123-87, the largest margin of victory in Clippers history.