PHOENIX (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers have been beating just about everybody. Then came the dreaded trip to Phoenix, where they haven’t’ won in five years.
That streak of futility didn’t end Thursday night when the Suns came away with a rough, intense 93-90 victory that bolstered their playoff hopes and dimmed the Clippers’ prospects for a Pacific Division title.
Steve Nash of the Suns hit a crucial driving layup, then made two free throws for the deciding points in a game that featured 24 lead changes.
“It wasn’t our type of game, really and it wasn’t a clean game by either team,” Nash said after the Suns’ 10th straight home win over the Clippers. “We found a way to hang around when we could have gone south a lot of moments tonight. But we hung in there and found a way to just scrap and claw — you know, big win.”
Chris Paul, who had 10 assists, scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half of just the third loss in 16 games for the Clippers, who had won five straight. Caron Butler added 19 points for the Clippers, while Blake Griffin scored 16 points, only two after the first quarter.
Griffin was sent to the court on a flagrant foul by Robin Lopez with 6:14 to play and said afterward that his neck was very sore.
“I thought it was dirty. He is trying to take him down,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “The league has got to do something to protect this kid. We can only get so many technical fouls. We can only do so many things and guys are taking shots at him. It is getting bad. The kid is in pain right now.”
Jared Dudley scored 18 points and Channing Frye had 16 for the Suns, who moved into a tie with Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Suns have the tiebreaker against the Jazz. Marcin Gortat had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Phoenix while Nash and Sebastian Telfair both scored 13 points.
The Clippers fell one game behind the first-place Lakers in the Pacific Division with the Lakers holding the tiebreaker.
Lopez was ejected for a “flagrant foul 2′” for coming down hard on Griffin’s head and neck on a layup, sending the forward crashing to the court.
“I was just going for the ball,” Lopez insisted. “He got by me and I was just trying to go for the ball and he got a bit farther and I tried to go for his arms. It was what it was. It is my job to protect the rim. I tried to go for his arms.
“People have kind of called Phoenix soft in the past. Tonight I think we showed we can do a good job of being the aggressor, especially near the end.”
Referees in the loosely officiated game reviewed the play before confirming the call, then added a technical against the Clippers’ Mo Williams for shoving Lopez after the play. Telfair made the free throw on the technical, then Griffin sank one of two free throws to give Los Angeles a 78-75 lead.
It stayed close the rest of the way.
Paul made two free throws, then Nash sank the driving layup to tie it at 88 with 1:15 remaining.
In a rare move, point guards Nash and Telfair played together down the stretch. That allowed Telfair to defend Paul.
With the game tied at 88, Paul missed a jumper with Telfair in his face. Telfair found Gortat for a breakaway. He missed the dunk but was fouled by Randy Foye. Gortat, though, made just one of two free throws to put Phoenix ahead 89-88 with 48.4 seconds to go.
Paul made two more from the line with 42.5 seconds to go to put the Clippers ahead 90-89. After a timeout, Nash was fouled by Martin on a drive to the lane and made both free throws, giving Phoenix a 91-90 lead with 25.9 seconds left, the game’s final lead change.
Telfair knocked the ball out of the hands of a driving Paul with 7.7 seconds to play. On the subsequent out of bounds play, the Clippers had to call a timeout, their last of the game, as Telfair denied Paul the pass.
After Williams’ long 3-pointer rimmed in and out, Frye made two free throws with 2 seconds to go and Griffin couldn’t connect from the top of the key at the buzzer.
NOTES: The Suns’ Grant Hill missed his third straight game after an aborted two-game comeback from a procedure to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. … The Clippers last won in Phoenix on April 17, 2007. … The Clippers’ only losses in their previous 15 games were to the Lakers on April 4 and Memphis on April 9. … The Clippers’ five-game winning streak was one shy of their season high. … Nash needs four assists to pass Oscar Robertson for fifth on the NBA career list.