The Phoenix Suns obliterated the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night by a score of 107-88. It didn't even feel as close as that; the Suns led by as many as 29 and the Clippers made some meaningless threes in garbage time. As usual under head coach Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix pushed the pace and put pressure on Los Angeles from the opening tip. The Suns scored the game's first nine points. The Clippers did not respond.
"They beat us in everything," Clippers guard Chris Paul said, via ESPN's Arash Markazi. "We can't say that we beat them in anything, and that doesn't happen too many nights in the NBA. This was just an old-fashioned butt whuppin' and they did it from beginning to end and we got to move on."
Phoenix's Goran Dragic picked apart the opposition with a monster performance: 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting, eight assists, one rebound and five steals.
"Jeff mentioned before the game that we have to put our pace on," Dragic told the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro. "I talk with all the players that if we play fast, it's much tougher to stop us because we get layups and open threes. If Channing [Frye], Gerald [Green] and Tuck [P.J. Tucker] space the floor and knock shots down, it's really tough to stop us."
The storyline coming into the game was Eric Bledsoe's return to face his former teammates. Bledsoe, who mistakenly tried to enter the Clippers locker room before shootaround (via ESPN) only finished with seven points, four rebounds three assists and two steals, with his biggest contribution coming on the defensive end. His backcourt partner had the most noteworthy performance, but the 19-11 Suns won with a balanced team effort, as they have been doing all season long.
"I don't know if it's getting surprising any more just because these guys are proving it over and over," Hornacek told reporters. "That was probably our best game of the year."
Meanwhile, Clippers point guard Chris Paul said it might have been one of the worst losses since he joined the team and head coach Doc Rivers said it was the worst the team has played this season, via ESPN.
Clippers star forward Blake Griffin was largely held in check by Channing Frye, finishing with 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting, plus five rebounds, one assist and four turnovers in 28 misses. Four or Griffin's misses were blocked attempts.
"What have I got to lose? Nobody thinks I play defense anyway," Frye told the Arizona Republic. "I just try to do the best I can and make him work and take tough shots."
Clips Nation's Steve Perrin admitted he eventually flipped from the game to watch the movie "2012," and he obviously was not pleased with what he saw from Los Angeles:
The Clippers had another horrendous shooting night, making just 36% from the field (a number that was at 33% through three quarters before a 29 point garbage time fourth lifted their percentages a bit). But unlike other poor shooting nights when it seemed like the Clippers were just missing makeable shots, this one felt different. This one felt like the Clippers were playing 5 versus 6 or 7. Whether it was a lack of energy from L.A. or a surplus from Phoenix, the Clippers were simply never open. Even if they got past the first defender, there was a second, and a third. The Suns can't possibly be that overwhelmingly active every game, or their record would be even better than 19-11. But at the same time, I think we now know why this team has been such a surprise this season. If they play anywhere close to that hard in every game, they'll always have a chance.
Sreekar's recap at Bright Side of the Sun was predictably cheerier, and he called attention to Gerald Green's excellent game (21 points on 8-for-14 shooting, 5-for-10 on threes, two rebounds, two blocks, two steals):
Gerald Green was unconscious tonight, seemingly hitting everything he put up. Hornacek has given him the greenest of lights (pun absolutely intended) in this offense, and Green hasn't been shy about taking his shots. He took (and made) several pull-up threes on the break tonight, yet they never once felt like bad shots. That says a lot about how well he has fit into his role on this team
As for the threes, Green told the Arizona Republic, "Everybody's not really expecting me to shoot those threes like that so they're backing up [in transition]. "If they continue to back up, I think if I would've not shot it, Coach would get mad. My teammates trust me. I've taken wild shots and not one time have they come and told me, ‘That's a crazy shot.'"
The great thing about the Suns this season is that every player appears to be as confident as Green. After a miserable 2012-2013, Phoenix has turned into a feel-good story and a running-and-gunning League Pass dream. The Suns play hard as hell, and Hornacek, a first-time head coach, should get all the credit in the world for empowering a group of guys who were expected to land this team in the lottery. He's the coach of the year and the rookie of the year in my books.