Clippers beat Suns for 5th straight win

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The bench bailed out the Clippers again.

Jamal
Crawford led a fourth-quarter rally with 13 of his 21 points, and Los
Angeles beat Phoenix 117-99 on Saturday, winning its fifth in a row
while sending the Suns to their season-worst sixth straight loss.

“Thank
the bench because the starters were struggling,” Clippers coach Vinny
Del Negro said. “They got us off to a bad start again. Our starters get
into this energy on the offense and not on the defense. This game easily
could have gone the other way.”

Blake Griffin added 24 points
and a career-best four steals, and Chris Paul had 16 points and 11
assists, but the Clippers’ reserves carried them. Crawford made all four
of his free throws to extend his streak to 55 in a row since Nov. 3.

“We
owed them a lot,” Griffin said about the reserves. “We want to put it
away early, but with the way that our team is put together, our second
team is just as capable coming in and putting that lead on teams.”

The
Clippers broke out in the final quarter after not leading by more than
seven points through the first three periods. And they did it with their
reserves, who scored every point. They opened with a 17-4 run in which
Crawford scored 11 points on a variety of shots, including a 3-pointer
and two free throws.

“They’ve got a hell of a basketball team,”
said Suns coach Alvin Gentry, who once guided the Clippers. “When the
starters get 61 and the bench gets 56, that’s a well-balanced team. They
do a good job of passing the basketball.”

Los Angeles fans were
rewarded with a couple of big dunks by Eric Bledsoe and another by Matt
Barnes that pushed the Clippers’ lead to 110-93 with 4:04 to play. Their
reserves outscored Phoenix’s bench, 56-45.

“It started with defense,” Griffin said. “We got five stops in a row and got into an 11-point lead.”

Michael
Beasley scored 21 points off the bench, and Shannon Brown added 19 for
Phoenix, which hadn’t lost six in a row since March 3-12, 2009.

“If
we’re going to get out of this, we’ve got to work our own way out and
do it collectively as a group,” Gentry said. “In this league, no one’s
going to help us and no one feels sorry for you. It’s not a pity
league.”

Luis Scola scored 10 in a row for the Suns and finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Neither
team managed to pull away in the third, when the Clippers led 85-83
before their starters went to the bench for good to start the fourth.

Los
Angeles got a boost from its second unit early in the second, with
Crawford scoring five in a row and Lamar Odom and Barnes chipping in as
the Clippers played catch-up. Griffin and Paul took over the final 2:50,
combining to score 11 of their team’s final 14 points to send the
Clippers into halftime leading 63-57.

Odom finished with eight points and eight rebounds, having dropped 12 pounds recently as he works his way back into shape.

“I
don’t think you can have too much talent,” he said about the bench. “We
need everyone to be successful to get to where we want to be.”

The game began shortly after noon, and the Clippers’ defense sleepwalked through the first quarter when the Suns led by seven.

NOTES:
Suns C Jermaine O’Neal was ejected in fourth quarter after taking
offense to a call. … Clippers G Chauncey Billups missed his second
straight game because of tendinitis in his left ankle. … The Clippers
have scored 100 or more points in each of their last five victories. …
The Suns played their seventh road game in 14 days. They fell to 2-10
away from home. … Beasley didn’t start after totaling 24 points on 10
of 35 shooting in his three previous games.