On a night that the Phoenix Suns were wearing their Noche Latina jerseys, Blake Griffin, and the Los Angeles Clippers, showed them what "en fuego" truly means. It certainly didn't come easy for the Los Angeles Clippers during the game's waning moments but, early on, it was all feast for the beast that resides in STAPLES. In a game that resembled something out of a Monday Night RAW episode, Blake Griffin put on a show in more ways than one. To understand the ebb and flow of this game would be something of an impossibility. It had so many interesting plot developments that it almost seemed like a movie up for Oscar nomination.
In the first quarter of the game, Blake Griffin had 22 points by himself and he, personally, trailed the Phoenix Suns by just one point at the end of the quarter. His quarter was just a myriad of awesomeness that ranged from elaborate finishes around the rim, face-up jumpers from the elbow, a turnaround fadeaway from 20-feet with the shot clock buzzer going off, two bank shots, and a thunderous dunk that paid homage to Karl Malone. Clippers led by 11 after one.
Second quarter saw the Clippers stretch the lead out to 15 before the Suns cut it down to a 41-33 deficit with 7:15 to go. The Clippers answered that by going on a run that was fueled by Danny Granger hitting two huge threes. Speaking of Granger, he was a huge part of tonight's success. He looked, at least early on, that he had some spring in his step and was able to do what he wanted to do out there. It was nice to see. He was a big reason that the Clippers went into the half sporting a 17 point advantage.
The Clippers treaded water in the third quarter until they hit a 17-8 run that pushed their lead up to 25 points with 6:30 to go in the quarter. But the Phoenix Suns didn't go away quietly. Much like they have all season long, the Suns fought back from an early deficit and started to get going. After seeing the way they rebounded and stole the heart of Oklahoma City the other night in Phoenix, it wasn't a real shock that the Suns hung around and made a game of this. They were on a 22-8 run and had cut the lead down to 11 before Matt Barnes sunk a three to beat the third period buzzer. Because of that, the Clippers were up 90-76.
The Clippers went on a nice run to start the final frame and had a 21 point lead with 8:15 to go. It looked like that, maybe, the Phoenix Suns would finally fold up shop. But they didn't. That's when the real fun started. The Suns went on a quick little 10-3 run and cut it down to 14 points. And then it happened. Someone tried, once again, to get under Blake Griffin's skin and play up his "soft" moniker that he's earned around the league.
Matt Barnes took a three-pointer from the right wing. As the ball was coming down, Blake Griffin and PJ Tucker were battling for all important rebounding position. The weight of Griffin caused Blake to fall down on top of Tucker. As Griffin lay on top of Tucker, he motioned to the referee almost as if asking him to do something about it. He didn't. Tucker did. In one fell swoop, Tucker unleashed a right elbow akin to that of Jon Jones.
Blake Griffin lost his cool, rightfully so, and went nuts. Everyone on the court broke up the scrum and, when the dust had settled, PJ Tucker had been tossed out of the game. It was one of those moments that was just surreal in a way.
But there was still 5:30 to go in the game. After a short delay, which ended with PJ Tucker walking off the court with a smile on his face, the game resumed. Someone forgot to tell the Clippers that because the Suns responded to that fight with a 9-1 run that reduced the Clippers lead to just 6 points. In that framework of the 9-1 run, Blake Griffin fouled out thanks to two offensive fouls, the second one being borderline, and the Clippers committed three total turnovers (two on the Griffin offensive fouls). It was sloppy. That was the only way to describe it.
With 1:46 to go, and the Clippers up by 6, Chris Paul shaked and baked Gerald Green and stepped back into a free-throw line jumper. It banked in. That was the fortunes of the Clippers tonight despite the best efforts of the Phoenix Suns late in this game. The Clippers were up by 8 but the Suns still fought. They clawed their way to a 4 point deficit with 32 seconds to but Matt Barnes iced the game by making 3 of the 4 free throws he attempted. It was truly a spirited effort that the Clippers turned back.
This game belonged to one man, though. And he's getting my Game Ball. Blake Griffin finished the game with 37 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal on 14 of 16 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free throw line. His two lone misses came on a layup attempt that Miles Plumlee blocked into the front row early in the game and a missed alley-oop dunk. Everything else was falling for him. But there was some bad. He did have 6 turnovers, including two late that resulted in him fouling out. However, he was the backbone tonight. Without him, I don't know how this game would have turned out. He was the heart and soul. And he showed it by not backing down from another attempt to sully his good name.
This wasn't a great Clippers win. There were some bad parts to this game. They turned the ball over 22 times and it led to 28 Phoenix points. The offense, at times, did look stagnant and out of place but there's not much to complain about when a team shoots 55% from the field. Could they have shot better from three? Sure. Danny Granger looked great from three early on but tired legs did him in later. Matt Barnes hit a corner three in this game but missed his other five attempts. All in all, the Clippers didn't play their best. They looked out of sorts at times but still held off a tough team.
By the way, I want to give some dap to the Phoenix Suns. No, I obviously didn't like what PJ Tucker did tonight but that's beside the point. Most teams on the second night of a back-to-back, when faced with an uphill battle like the Suns had to face, would have just packed up early and mailed the game in. They didn't, though. They fought until the bitter end and put up one hell of a fight. That's the sign of a team that's buying in. Much in the same way the Clippers have bought into Doc Rivers and his mantra. You always play hard because you never know when the team you're facing will just wilt under the pressure.
Up next for the Clippers are those pesky Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, much like the Suns and the Hawks, are fighting for playoff seeding and are heading into STAPLES on the second night of a back-to-back. Golden State is home against Dallas tomorrow and then will travel late to get to Los Angeles. This is an opportunity to increase the second best winning streak in franchise history. After this upcoming game, the Clippers have 6 straight contests against teams under .500. This is the time to make a move. It starts Wednesday night.
Stat of the Night: Los Angeles Clippers went 19 of 33 (57.6%) on contested field goal attempts tonight.
Secondary Stat of the Night: Phoenix Suns shot worse on uncontested field goal attempts (42.9%) than contested field goal attempts (48.8%).
For the Phoenix Suns perspective on the game, be sure to check out Bright Side Of The Sun.
NBA.com Interactive Box Score: LAC-PHX Box Score