The Clippers got their franchise-record 50th victory in their fourth try. It didn’t come without some fireworks that had nothing to do with celebrating.
DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Chris Paul added 14 points and 12 assists, and Los Angeles led all the way in beating the last-place Phoenix Suns 126-101 on Wednesday night as tempers flared in the fourth quarter.
”It’s big,” Jordan said about the landmark win, ”but we’re looking at the bigger picture. This is one thing we can check off.”
Willie Green and Caron Butler scored 15 points each, and Blake Griffin had nine points, seven assists and five rebounds to help the Clippers end a three-game skid with their second-highest scoring total of the season. They improved to 50-26 overall, bettering the single-season record for wins set in 1974-75 when the team was in Buffalo. They’re 29-9 at home.
”Whenever you do something first it’s significant, but we expect more and we should,” coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Griffin added, ”We feel like we could have been a 60-win team.”
The Clippers needed to win and have Golden State lose to New Orleans to clinch the franchise’s first division title. But the Warriors won 98-88, postponing another first by this Clippers team.
”Ever since I got here we talked about setting a precedent,” Paul said.
Wesley Johnson scored 20 points and Jermaine O’Neal added 18 for the last-place Suns, who have lost seven straight overall, 13 of their last 15, and six in a row on the road. Goran Dragic, who didn’t score his first basket until the start of the third quarter, finished with 12.
”We didn’t contend while they were penetrating and scoring some easy baskets,” Dragic said. ”We’re not going to make the playoffs, so just try to compete until the end of the season.”
The Clippers pulled away in the third, outscoring the Suns 38-20 to lead 95-70 going into the fourth. Jordan’s teammates set him up for three high-flying dunks – he had eight total in the game – while Griffin and Paul got ones of their own in, too.
”It’s all energy and effort,” Del Negro said about Jordan. ”He was active and running the court. When he moves like that it makes the game easier for him and the team.”
Griffin and Phoenix teammates P.J. Tucker and O’Neal had to be separated at one point after they tangled with Griffin while double-teaming him.
The bad blood didn’t stop there.
With 8:57 left in the game and the Clippers starters on the bench, Jamal Crawford hit a 3-pointer and Ryan Hollins put his left arm around Dragic’s neck as they scrambled for position under the basket. Their momentum carried them over to the Suns’ bench, with Hollins keeping Dragic in a headlock before shoving him and Michael Beasley shouting at Hollins in the tangle of players.
Lamar Odom pulled on Hollins’ jersey to get him away. After the referees reviewed the play, Hollins was called for a flagrant-2 foul and ejected, while Beasley received a technical.
”It was just a quick play in the heat of the moment,” Hollins said. ”I definitely didn’t have intent to hurt and I don’t think he did, either.”
In the first quarter, Griffin and Tucker received double technicals.
”Ryan had a nice 45 seconds there when he and Goran Dragic almost had a WWE battle,” Jordan joked.
The Clippers dominated the paint with a season-high 72 points to Phoenix’s 32, and had a 25-11 edge in fast break points.
”We played fast, we got tempo up and got some stops,” Paul said. ”We forced 19 turnovers and only had six ourselves.”
Los Angeles opened the game on a 15-0 run for its largest lead of the half. The Suns twice got within two points on baskets by Beasley, but the Clippers used a 10-5 spurt, including six free throws by Paul, to lead 57-50 at the break.
”To come out and give up 15 points without them executing one single play is embarrassing,” Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said.
NOTES: The Clippers, Memphis and Charlotte are the only teams in NBA history that have yet to win a division crown. … Clippers G Chauncey Billups missed his fourth straight game with a strained right groin. … The Suns play four of their final seven games on the road, where they are 7-30. .. The Clippers won the season series, 3-1. … Crawford has made 33 straight free throws since Feb. 23. He set the franchise record of 58 in a row earlier this season.