Suns continue hot run, hand Clippers biggest loss of season
Jeff Hornacek and Doc Rivers played against each other for 13 seasons in the NBA. This was the first time they matched up as head coaches in a game that counted, and Hornacek’s Phoenix Suns gave the Los Angeles Clippers a not-so-subtle reminder of how quickly turnovers can turn into fast-break points.
Goran Dragic had 26 points and eight assists before sitting out the fourth quarter, Gerald Green added 21 points off the bench, and the Suns ended the year with a 107-88 rout of the Clippers on Monday night.
The Clippers went up against a team that began the day averaging a league-best 19.1 fast-break points, and allowed 18 for the game. Phoenix scored the first nine points, seven off three Clippers turnovers. The Suns converted 20 turnovers into 20 points overall, including a three-point play by Dragic that gave them a 45-34 lead with 4:55 left in the first half.
"This is our game. We try to play a fast, up-tempo game, and I think things are going to be much better if you play like that," Dragic said. "Playing a half-court game is really tough for us, so we have to push the ball and try to get everybody involved. And when we get into the open court, we have all those open shooters."
The Suns have won 10 of their last 12 after a 9-9 start and trail the defending Pacific Division champion Clippers by a half-game for the top spot.
"It was a huge win for us, especially in L.A.," Dragic said. "We knew it was going to be a hard game. They’re a really good team, a playoff team, and they have a lot of stars. So our job was to play them strong — especially in the first half — and force them to play our rhythm. We did a good job of that."
Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford each scored 15 points for Los Angeles, while Chris Paul had 11 points and seven assists. It was the most lopsided loss of the season for the Clippers, who beat the Suns the previous three times they hosted them — by an average margin of 20 points.
"I think we did a good job of being really unselfish and looking for each other," said Channing Frye, who put the clamps on Griffin following his 40-point effort over Utah on Saturday night.
"We had 26 assists, so we did a better job of pushing the pace and executing. It’s not like we’re shooting off the wall, but guys are taking the right shots most of the time. Hopefully we can remember how hard we played tonight and can continue that into the new year so we can stay in that groove we’re in."
The Suns were 12 for 31 on 3-pointers against the Clippers, who came in with the league’s best defense against 3-point shooting (32.7 percent).
Dragic, who averaged only 9.2 points in his 17 previous games against the Clippers, powered the Suns to a 61-40 halftime lead with 20 points. Green added 14 in the second quarter, including a trio of 3-pointers that helped fuel a 16-4 run in the final 4:08 of the half.
"We have a tendency every once in a while to go into a lull and give up some easy baskets, but tonight I thought we were really alert," Hornacek said. "When they rolled to the basket, we were there to help. And when they kicked it out, the guys were rotating. We just challenged every shot, and they didn’t have a lot of easy shots."
Los Angeles got no closer than 16 in the second half. Griffin and Paul both sat out the fourth quarter with the Clippers trailing 88-59 through three.
"They just kept pushing it at us," Paul said. "On a night like this when our offense isn’t going, we have to be able to rely on our defense. Tonight we couldn’t. I don’t think they caught us off guard. We knew how they were going to play. They hit us in the mouth early, and they just dominated us through and through. Luckily it only counts as one loss."
Eric Bledsoe, who came in as Phoenix’s leading scorer with an 18.4 average, played his first game against the team he spent his first four NBA seasons with and finished with seven points and four assists in 31 minutes.
NOTES: This will be the first time in franchise history that the Clippers make it to New Year’s Day without a losing streak of more than two games in a full season. … Griffin has drawn a league-high 123 fouls. The Suns fouled him six times. … None of the Clippers’ other 11 losses were by more than 14 points. … Los Angeles C DeAndre Jordan played 21 scoreless minutes in the first half with 12 rebounds. He finished with two points and 19 boards. … The Clippers took their only lead, 14-13, on a pair of free throws by Griffin.