Blake Griffin scored 22 of his 37 points in the first quarter and made 14 of 16 shots before fouling out, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 112-105 on Monday night for their eighth straight victory.
Darren Collison scored 20 points and Chris Paul added 17 points and 11 assists for the Pacific Division leaders, who were 55.1 percent from the field and improved to 23-1 when shooting at least 50 percent.
Goran Dragic had 23 points and five assists during a foul-plagued 33 minutes for the Suns, who slipped a half-game behind idle Memphis for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot and are 1 1-2 behind Dallas. Phoenix hasn’t made the postseason since 2010 under coach Alvin Gentry, now a Clippers associate head coach.
Gerald Green, who had a career-high 41 points for the Suns in last Thursday’s 128-122 win over Oklahoma City, finished with 16 points after averaging 23.4 over his previous 13 games. Miles Plumlee, playing his second game after missing the previous two because of a sprained right knee, had 12 points and nine rebounds as all five Suns starters scored in double figures.
Dragic came in averaging 20.5 points, third in the league among point guards behind Stephen Curry (23.5) and Kyrie Irving (21.5). But he picked up his third foul 2 minutes into the second quarter and wasn’t a factor until the fourth, when the Suns rallied from a 19-point deficit with 8:11 remaining and got it down to 109-105 on Dragic’s layup with 32.5 seconds to play.
But that was as close as they got, as Matt Barnes made three of four free throws to close it out. Barnes finished with 13 points, just six days after scoring a season-high 28 — including six 3-pointers — and making 12 of his first 13 shots in the Clippers’ 104-96 win at Phoenix.
Things got testy with 5:28 remaining, as Griffin and P.J. Tucker began wrestling on the floor after they jockeyed for position in the paint on a missed 3-point shot by Barnes and Griffin fell on top of Tucker.
The two had to be separated, and the game was delayed while referees Bennie Adams, Jason Phillips and Matt Boland examined the video monitor to sort it all out. Tucker was charged with a loose ball foul and then ejected, while Griffin stayed in the game.
But not for long. Griffin picked up his sixth foul on a charge under the basket with 3:23 remaining and the Clippers ahead 105-95. Dragic made a pair of driving layups 28 seconds apart to slice the margin to 105-99 with 2:21 to go. But Paul responded with a 16-foot bank shot and two free throws for an eight-point cushion with 1:21 left.
The Suns trailed by as many as 25 after Paul’s 17-footer extended the Clippers’ margin to 77-72 with 7:14 left in the third quarter. Barnes hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Clippers a 90-76 lead heading into the fourth.
Griffin sat the final 1:03 of the third after picking up his fourth foul, then reported back in with 7:04 remaining and the Los Angeles leading 103-85.
The Clippers, who came in averaging a league-best 107.8 points, led 62-45 at halftime by virtue of Griffin’s 29 points and 11 each by Collison and newly acquired Danny Granger, who had 14 off the bench. They built a 34-23 lead through one quarter after Griffin went 8 for 9 from the field and made all six of his free throws.
Griffin came within one point of the franchise record for any quarter, shared by Randy Smith (Oct. 20, 1973 at Boston) and Baron Davis (Jan. 29, 2010 at Minnesota).
NOTES: Clippers G Jamal Crawford was on the inactive list for the fourth time in five games because of a left calf strain. He tried to play through it during Saturday’s win over Atlanta, but spent only 9 1-2 minutes on the court and attempted two shots — both of which missed. "I don’t know when he’s coming back. I just don’t know," coach Doc Rivers said. "I didn’t think he looked good the other night, just running. I don’t get involved very often with that stuff, but he wasn’t running natural, so we’ll just wait until he’s back to playing 100 percent." … The Clippers have scored at 100 or more points in 16 straight home games since their loss to the Suns. It’s their longest such streak since the 1983-84 season, their last one in San Diego. … Griffin posted his 23rd consecutive game with at least 20 points, extending his career-best streak.