I wish I had some wonderful insights for you on this game, but I really don't. I guess the story is the fact that the Clippers continued to battle, despite falling behind by 25 in the opening quarter. And yes, that is commendable. But so many things about this game just didn't go according to plan.
Like for instance, it's no surprise that the Suns won, but who would have expected the Clippers to shoot a higher percentage (51% to 48%)? For the Clippers to have a chance (which they did), we would have expected them to have an significant advantage on the glass. They outrebounded Phoenix, but only by two, 39 to 37, which is not nearly enough when you consider the rosters. We knew the Clippers would be in trouble if the Suns were allowed too many open threes. Well, Phoenix made 12 of 25, but who would have expected the Clippers to match them almost shot for shot at 11 for 24?
In the end, the Clippers wasted massive games from Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook, which is a shame. There probably won't be very many games this season where either one of those guys plays this well, let alone both, and it would have been nice to get a win on a night when Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin were getting such strong support. Gomes had a season high 20 points on 8 for 13 shooting, including 3 of 4 threes. Meanwhile, Cook had 16 on 6 of 9 shooting and 4 of 5 threes. That's 7 of 9 threes from reserve forwards. Like I said, that's not likely to happen very often. Cook also had 10 rebounds, giving him the eighth double double of his career, and his first since 2007 when he was still with the Lakers. He's now 11 for 19 shooting threes on the season, and appears to be doing exactly what the Clippers hoped he might be able to do when they brought him here - stretch the floor and create space for Blake Griffin.
We expected Blake to have a big game against the physically overmatched Phoenix defenders, and while he finished with impressive enough numbers (20 points on 9 of 17 shooting and 14 rebounds), it wasn't at all the performance we were hoping for. In the ultimately decisive first quarter the Suns doubled Griffin immediately and aggressively, and it worked. Griffin turned the ball over multiple times early and the Suns jumped out to their huge lead. Later in the game, partly because of Cook and Gomes and their hot shooting, the Clippers were able to get the ball to Griffin against single coverage and he took advantage, but it was essentially too late.
For whatever reason, the Suns just seem to have the Clippers' number these last few seasons. Plenty of teams have great success against the Clippers. San Antonio's win streak is well-documented; New Orleans' streak just ended; Utah never loses to them in Salt Lake City. But no team embarrasses the Clippers quite like the Suns. When Phoenix is clicking on offense, they can make any team look bad. And their offense is pretty much always clicking against the Clippers.
Ironically, the Clippers actually played some pretty good defense for stretches of the second half. They forced the Suns deep into the shot clock on several possessions, and even forced two shot clock violations. Invariably though the spell would be broken by a Clipper turnover resulting in an easy transition score for the Suns that would get their offense right back on track. The Clippers committed 16 turnovers in the game to the Suns' 8, a big factor in the final outcome.
Eric Gordon finished the game with a season high 32 points - but I didn't think he had a particularly good game. He's a terrific scorer, don't get me wrong, and he made some very tough hoops tonight. But he was sloppy handling the ball, and still not sharp from deep. The 32 points was in large part a function of the pace of the game - he was good, but if he'd been really sharp, he probably would have had 40.
The really bad news for the Clippers is that Eric Bledsoe sprained his ankle in the second quarter and did not return. X-rays of the ankle were negative and it's being termed a high ankle sprain by the team. He'll be out for at least a week would be my guess, and probably a couple. With Baron Davis out, and Randy Foye limited, that left the Clippers with Willie Warren, Eric Gordon and Rasual Butler in the backcourt in the second half of this one. (Foye is supposedly allowed to play 12 minutes per night, but in the last two games, he's played a five minute stint in the first half, and not returned in the second half. That tells me that the hamstring is tightening up after he sits, because you know they would have played him tonight if he'd been able to.)
With Gomes playing well and the guard corps depleted, the Clippers used some creative lineups in the second half. Vinny Del Negro went with Gordon, Gomes, Aminu, Cook and Griffin for four minutes in the fourth quarter. Don't be surprised if he uses Gomes in the backcourt against Utah Sunday afternoon as well. Gomes has defended Chris Paul, Tyreke Evans and Steve Nash for key portions of the last three games - given the backcourt injuries, I fully expect for him to defend Deron Williams some Sunday.
In the end, the Clippers drop to 3-14, beaten again by the Suns. They played hard, battled back more than once, and kept it interesting. Maybe next time they'll start the game from the beginning, and not dig a 25 point hole.