Phoenix 125 - Clippers 112 - A Tale of Two Centers

Going into this game, if you knew that one starting center was going to score 30 points and the other was going to score 12, you'd be pretty happy as a Clippers fan.  Amazingly though, All Star Chris Kaman has still yet to record a 30 point game in his career, while second year pro Robin Lopez bested his own career high by ten.

Since there's no hope for the Clippers to make the playoffs, a high-scoring loss is not the worst thing that could happen.  At least it's entertaining, and no one really expected them to win, especially in Phoenix against the red-hot Suns.  The Clippers shot 48% from the field and also made 12 of 25 threes for 48%, which would be more than enough offense to win most nights.  But as we mentioned in the preview, the Suns approach is just to outscore you, and they certainly did that, shooting 57%. 

Surprisingly, while the Clippers hung around for much of the game, pulling to within 4 points early in the fourth, it's not as if they got great games from their big players.  Eric Gordon had a good night, with 25 points on 14 shots, and Craig Smith and Travis Outlaw were both outstanding off the bench, scoring 18 and 16 respectively.  But Baron Davis was pretty quiet, and Rasual Butler and Drew Gooden were only OK, not great.  Then there was Kaman.

After watching his defensive assignment, Lopez, score 19 points in the first half, Kaman came out in the second half apparently determined... to take the rest of the night off.  On the first possession of the half he thought Lopez fouled him (and honestly, I'm not sure what his beef was), and promptly picked up two technical fouls and an ejection.  Did Bennett Salvatore and Courtney Kirkland have short fuses?  Maybe.  But Kaman clearly was not letting it go, whatever it was he felt happened, and it was a terrible decision.

I doubt that the Clippers could have beaten the Suns with Kaman around in the second half, but it would have been interesting to find out.  Smith was a beast in the first half, but was limited by a sore leg in the second, leaving the Clippers pretty thin in the front court.  Of course, against the Suns you can afford to play a little smaller, which the Clippers did quite a bit, with Outlaw or Butler and the four and Eric Gordon at the three.  But in the end, it was LA's inability to get stops - any stops at all - that was the difference in the game.

Trailing by 10 entering the fourth, the Clippers scored the first six points on two consecutive three point trips (one a three by Butler, the second a Gooden and-one).  With Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire on the bench resting, it seemed as if maybe the Clippers might make one last run at stealing the game.  But the Suns' supposedly second rate second unit instead pulled away.  Nash never re-entered the game, as Channing Frye led the Suns reserves wih 13 points in the quarter.

For me, two plays in this game captured the essence of the Phoenix approach to basketball.  Early in the first quarter, Eric Gordon stripped Jason Richardson of the ball and the Clippers ran out on a 3 on 1 fast break.  Richardson, who was of course closest to the play, didn't even run back.  Richardson's man Gordon got the uncontested layup - and the Suns inbounded the ball quickly and kicked it ahead to Richardson for the open short corner three.  Score of that sequence: Suns 3 - Clippers 2.  Motto: "We don't play defense, we just outscore you."

The other play came in the fourth.  With eight minutes left and the Clippers down only 5 after making 5 of their first 6 shots of the quarter, Alvin Gentry called timeout.  Out of the timeout, the Suns ran a play to get a straightaway three pointer for Frye - which he drained.  How many teams, with a full shot clock coming out of a time out, draw up a catch and shoot three for a seven footer?  It was a totally unexpected play.  You just don't expect teams to catch and shoot a three from an inbounds pass.  But that's the Suns.

Surprisingly, the Clippers actually outscored the Suns from the arc in the game, shooting 12 for 25 compared to 9 for 19 for Phoenix.  In fact, going into the fourth quarter, the Suns were a mediocre 4 for 12.  But they made 5 for 7 in the fourth, which was a big reason that they pulled away.

(As an aside, when the Clippers play Outlaw as a stretch four, they can put a pretty potent three point attack on the floor.  Particularly if Blake is at the point, a unit of Blake, Gordon, Butler and Outlaw could really stretch the floor and open things up for Chris Kaman.)

I was worried about pick and roll defense going into the game, and it turns out that my worries were justified.  The Suns picked apart the Clippers all night, leading to a 60-46 advantage in the paint.  Almost half of those 60 points came in the form of Lopez' career high 30 (only almost half, because he made 4 free throws).  Lopez is turning into a nice player for Phoenix - but he's not nearly as good as the Clippers made him look as they let him shoot 13 for 16 from the field.  He also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, helping Phoenix to a 40 to 34 rebounding advantage. So Lopez joins a long list of little known NBA players who have had career nights against the Clippers in the last few seasons, joining the likes of Beno Udrih and Anthony Morrow and Jonas Jerebko and many others. 

After the game, the Suns announcers asked Lopez what he was going to do to celebrate and he said, "I'm going to kill Bart Simpson."

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