The Phoenix Suns won a game without two of their best players, leaving the Los Angeles Clippers considerably cranky and unwilling to talk to the media for more than an hour after the final horn.
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Shannon Brown scored a season-high 21 points, including four free throws in the final 1:33, and the Suns beat the Clippers 91-87 on Thursday night to end a four-game road losing streak.
With his team playing the middle game in a stretch of three in three nights, Suns coach Alvin Gentry had Steve Nash and Grant Hill both sit out in street clothes.
”I think it was satisfying for the guys in the locker room, because I think they wanted to prove that we are a good team all around and that we can win games without Steve or Grant,” Gentry said. ”We didn’t have the guy who is the engine to our whole team.”
Channing Frye helped engineer the stunning victory with 12 points – on four 3-pointers – and Jared Dudley added 11 points and six rebounds. Sebastian Telfair, filling in for Nash at point guard, had seven points, eight assists and a critical steal of Chris Paul in the final seconds in his first start since Nov. 22, 2010, with Minnesota.
Last month, when the 38-year-old Nash and the 39-year-old Hill sat out a game at Denver, the Suns lost 109-92.
”We really didn’t know they weren’t playing until we got out on the court,” said Blake Griffin, who led the Clippers with 25 points and eight rebounds. ”We game-planned for them, so it wasn’t in our minds that they weren’t going to play. Obviously, those are two key players for them, but our principles are still the same. So things like that shouldn’t affect us, and it shouldn’t have gone this way at all.”
Paul finished with 10 points and 11 assists. The frustrated Clippers, who fell 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Lakers in the Pacific Division after their fifth loss in seven games, kept the dressing room closed for 1 hour, 6 minutes.
”Coach came in and we talked about some things before we got in the showers,” Griffin said. ”It was very productive. We talked about our sense of urgency, our execution down the stretch and the way we approach games.
”When you get into a setting like that, you talk about things. I mean, it wasn’t about pointing a finger at somebody. But if there’s a problem and no one ever talks about it, it’s not going to get better. So guys talked. And the more you talk, the more you figure things out.”
Trailing by 12 early in the fourth, the Suns went on a 10-2 run and closed to 78-76 with 6:57 to play. Reserve guard Ronnie Price hit a driving layup and followed that with a breakaway layup off his steal of Mo Williams to cap the rally.
Dudley’s two free throws tied the score 84-all with 2:56 remaining, and Brown’s 3 put Phoenix ahead 87-85 nearly 30 seconds later – the Suns’ first lead since early in the first quarter. After DeAndre Jordan tied it with two foul shots, Brown gave the Suns the lead for good with two at the other end.
Dudley missed a 3 that would have sealed the win, but Telfair stole the ball from Paul near the Clippers’ basket, and Brown closed it out with two more free throws. Los Angeles did not get a field goal after Griffin’s 16-footer with 4:37 remaining.
”It was a huge win for us,” Brown said. ”I don’t think it was a celebration that we won the world championship, but it was a celebration of a team win. We’re fighting to get into the playoffs, we’ve got three games in a row, and our two main players didn’t play tonight.”
Playing on the road for only the second time in 12 games, the Suns made only six of 23 shots in the first quarter and fell behind 29-17. The Clippers’ frontcourt of Griffin, Jordan and Caron Butler outscored their Phoenix counterparts – Dudley, Frye and Marcin Gortat – by a 21-3 margin during the quarter and 50-31 altogether.
The Clippers extended a seven-point lead to 47-30 with a 10-2 run capped by Jordan’s alley-oop dunk off a lob from Paul with 2:32 left in the second quarter, but the Suns responded by scoring the final nine points of the half – including Frye’s first 3-pointer of the game.
”That’s not when it was lost,” Griffin said. ”It was lost by us not having a sense of urgency down the stretch, giving them open shots and offensive rebounds and making costly turnovers. We’ve got a good team and we’ve got to do better.”
Griffin got a technical foul from referee Gary Zielinski with 8:45 left in the third quarter for complaining about an offensive foul and a subsequent delay-of-game call against him after Phoenix closed to 52-44 on Brown’s 20-foot jumper.
Notes: Former USC point guard G Nick Young, whom the Clippers obtained from Washington in a three-way deal with Denver just before Wednesday’s trade deadline, was interviewed during the team’s TV pregame show on a remote feed from New Orleans – where the Wizards were playing. ”It is a great fit,” Young said. ”I find myself growing there. They have great players on the team, and I can learn from each one of them. It’s a great feeling to have a team like the Clippers behind you, and knowing that a team vying for a championship wants you. You want to play for your hometown team. My mom knew before I knew, and she called me screaming.” … Gentry’s first game as Suns head coach after replacing Terry Porter in February 2009 was a 40-point win over the Clippers – the team Gentry had coached from 2000 through 2003. That was the largest margin of victory in a team’s first game following a coaching change until Wednesday night, when the New York Knicks beat Portland by 42 in Mike Woodson’s first game as head coach following Mike D’Antoni’s abrupt resignation.