This game was a roller coaster. Early it looked like the Clippers would be unstoppable, jumping out to a nice first quarter lead on the strength of some very efficient offense. Unfortunately, the defense wasn't nearly as good, and the Clippers weren't able to pull away. In the second quarter, the Suns reserves erased the deficit and built a lead of their own. In the third quarter, the Clippers again tried to assert their dominance, building a 10 point lead again. But a general lapse of intensity let the Suns back within two at the end of the quarter.
Again in the fourth quarter, it seemed the Clippers would pull away. Baron Davis and Eric Gordon started the period beasting the smaller Phoenix guards. Once again, the Clippers built a lead. And once again Phoenix fought back. This time from the foul line.
After suffering a major foul disparity in their opener against the Lakers - perhaps understandable against the champs on their floor - the Clippers got absolutely killed by the calls in the fourth quarter of this game. Something you'd like to think wouldn't happen when you're the home team. At one point in the quarter, there were ten whistles against the Clippers, to two against the Suns. Whether it was justified or not, it clearly was in the heads of the Clipper players. After Grant Hill climbed Baron's back to get a put back and cut the lead to one, Baron was pissed at the ref. After Kaman made a layup, he was pissed that he didn't get the and-one.
But let's make one thing perfectly clear - this game isn't this close down the stretch if the Clippers just make their free throws. Rarely is it quite this clear, but in a game that went down to the wire, the Clippers and Suns took the same number of free throws overall - and the Suns were plus 5 in points there.
So instead of having a nice lead in the fourth, all the Clipper missed free throws set up a furious finish. At 104 all, with 40 seconds left, the Clippers got caught in rotation and gave Leandro Barbosa a wide open look at a corner three, which he drilled.
After a time out, the Clippers came back with Kaman surrounded by four shooters - Novak, Butler, Gordon and Baron. It wasn't the prettiest set - in fact, it didn't work at all. But they did get Amare switched on Butler, who made the tying three off the dribble. (And by the way, isn't it nice to actually have four shooters to put on the floor?)
Now tied at 107, with 11 seconds left, Nash went one on one for the go ahead bucket.
On the Clippers' ensuing in bound play, Nash knocked Gordon to the floor. No call and the Clippers called time out. Then after they got the ball in, the refs finally called a foul on the Suns - but the Clippers had gotten so few calls in the quarter, they weren't in the bonus. Side out of bounds again. Final play, ball goes to Gordon, he tries to draw the foul against Stoudemeire on the switch, but once again ... you guessed it ... no call.
Everyone will focus on the final no call. But it was the rest of the quarter that I found strange. If the whistles are even remotely equal in the fourth quarter, the Clippers are in the bonus when Gordon is fouled with 3 seconds left and he's going to the line to send the game to OT.
But give credit to Steve Nash. In the first half on the game thread, I was talking about his terrible plus/minus. And the simple fact is that through three quarters the Suns made up ground when he was out of the game, lost ground when he was in the game. But in the fourth, he just took over, perhaps sending a message to everyone that he's not done yet. He scored 15 fourth quarte points and didn't miss a shot - he was 5 for 5 from the field, and 4 for 4 from the line. He was, in a word, unbeatable.
This loss hurts, guys. In fact, it reminds me a little of game two last season. After losing game one to the Lakers, you figure no big deal, we're supposed to be 0-1 at this point. Last year, the Clippers gave up a big lead to the Nuggets and lost in overtime, and the wheels came off from there. The Clippers should have won this game. If they make their free throws, they win. If they catch a break from the officials, they win. If Steve Nash misses a single shot in the fourth, they win. But instead, they lost. And it hurts.