The Phoenix Suns are in the midst of a dreaded back-to-back-to-back, three games in three nights. Two of their best players, Grant Hill and Steve Nash, are among the oldest players in the league -- Hill at 39 is the second oldest, and Nash at 38 is the fifth oldest. After a game in Phoenix Wednesday night, and with a game back in the desert looming Friday night, coach Alvin Gentry made the only reasonable decision -- he gave Hill and Nash the night off in Los Angeles Thursday against the Clippers so that he would not wear them out.
The logic is sound -- concede the game in L.A. and focus on a more winnable contest against the Pistons on Friday. There was only one problem with the plan. He forgot to tell the rest of the Suns that they were conceding. They hung close throughout the game, and then in the fourth quarter it was the Clippers who ultimately fell as the Suns won, 91-87.
On talent alone, L.A. should have run away with this game. The point guard matchup was Chris Paul against Sebastian Telfair. The power forward matchup was Blake Griffin against Channing Frye. And it's not as if the Suns were exactly winning the other matchups talentwise either.
Indeed, the Clippers led by 12 after the first quarter and built the lead up to 17 with just two and a half minutes left in the first half. Had they been able to take that lead into halftime, the Suns might very well have gotten the message that discretion is the better part of valor and begun to think about Detroit on Friday. Instead, the Clippers lost focus for the last couple of minutes and allowed the Suns to run off nine unanswered going into the half, which sent a very different message -- stick around, Suns, maybe we'll let you steal this one in the end.
The Clippers led by 11 going into the fourth quarter, and actually stretched the lead out to 12 a minute in. And then the wheels came off. Los Angeles went scoreless over the next four and a half minutes. Over the final 11 minutes of the game, they managed just nine points total -- and four of those came on free throws when Alvin Gentry decided to intentionally foul Griffin and then DeAndre Jordan. Aside from the gift free throws, the Clippers' offense managed just two baskets and five points over the final 11 minutes of basketball.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix offense was chipping away at the lead. They began by scoring off turnovers, and then they started making three pointers. A Markieff Morris triple cut the lead to two. A minute later, Channing Frye's trey sliced it down to one. Then, with 2:25 remaining, a Shannon Brown three gave the Suns an 87-85 lead, their first since the score was 7-6. After two DeAndre Jordan free throws tied the game (and Vinny Del Negro really should send a thank you note to Gentry since the Clippers offense certainly wasn't generating any points on its own), Brown made four free throws to close out the scoring and the Suns had their most improbable win of the season.
Griffin led the Clippers with 25 points on 12-18 shooting -- but he scored just three points and missed three free throws in the final quarter. Five other Clippers scored in double figures, but none had more than 14. Paul had 10 points and 11 assists, but was scoreless in the crucial final 11 minutes.
The Suns were led by Brown, getting his first start of the season in place of Hill, with 21. Phoenix made nine three pointers to the Clippers' four and 18 free throws compared to just 5 for L.A..
After the game, the Clippers, losers of 9 of their last 14 and falling ever further in the Western Conference standings, held a closed door meeting that lasted well over an hour. It seems they had a lot to talk about.
The Suns have now won 9 of 12 and improved their season record to 21-22. A win Friday would get them back to .500 for the first time they were 4-4. The Clippers dropped to 24-18, and are 1-3 on their current home stand. They have not won consecutive games in a month.