LOS ANGELES — As Matt Barnes’ 3-pointer went up, Blake Griffin and P.J. Tucker battled for rebounding positioning and tangled arms, falling to the ground in the process.
A scuffle ensued, with Tucker striking Griffin in the face with the forearm. Griffin pushed back, both teams rushed to the scene, and the altercation was broken up before any real damage was done (Tucker was ejected and Griffin, who kept his composure by not punching back, stayed in the game before fouling out two minutes later).
The message was clear: neither team was going to back down in a physical, heated game that mirrored postseason play. With playoff positioning on the line, they couldn’t afford to.
"You have to play through that," coach Doc Rivers said of the game’s physicality and 53 foul calls. "You have to adjust to that. I thought both teams got off rhythm a little bit with that."
Blake Griffin the center of attention in Clips’ 8th straight win
The Clippers (45-20) ultimately did a better job of weathering the storm, pulling away from the Suns for a 112-105 victory. The final score was closer than expected, though, as the Clippers’ 25-point lead quickly dwindled in the second half yet again.
Griffin led the way with 37 points, Chris Paul added 17 points and 11 assists, and DeAndre Jordan controlled the paint with 17 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Here are five takeaways from tonight’s game:
The Blake Show
Dunks, lay-ins, free throws, hook shots, full-court drives, bank shots, turnaround fadeaways at the buzzer. Griffin’s full array of moves were on display in the first quarter. He scored 22 points — one shy of the Clippers’ record for a quarter — on 8-of-9 shooting, which included four jumpers outside of 13 feet. It sounds crazy, but he just keeps getting better.
After holding the Suns to 45 points on 36.4 percent shooting in the first half, the Clippers’ defense fell apart in the third and fourth quarters. Goran Dragic (20 second-half points) and the Morris twins (31 combined second-half points) found the seams in L.A.’s shaky defense and capitalized. A 25-point blowout turned into a two-possession game late, before the Clippers finally prevailed.
Finding his rhythm
Danny Granger scored 14 points (5-of-11 shooting) in 23 minutes, both individual highs with L.A. He looked far more comfortable on both ends of the floor, and Rivers noted after the game that it was Granger’s best defensive performance. Rivers showed his confidence and trust in Granger by inserting him, not Glen Davis, when Griffin fouled out with 3:23 remaining.
The Bruin blur
Darren Collison has been doing his best Jamal Crawford impersonation recently. With the starters, he’s simply been a secondary ball-handler and spot-up shooter. With the second unit, however, he’s the top offensive option and a legitimate penetrator. His 20 points and 4 assists kept Phoenix at bay, especially as the Clippers’ offense lagged in the second half.
Once again, the Clippers had another poor effort taking care of the ball. Thirteen of their 21 turnovers came in the second half, allowing the Suns to get out in transition and rack up easy buckets. With the rival Warriors, who rank third in defensive efficiency, in town on Wednesday, the Clippers will have no choice but to clean up their decision-making.