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Clippers Shine Against Suns, 116-98

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Despite early struggles, the Clippers pushed past a young, tenacious Suns team

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Both teams played with intense pace to begin the game. While the entire Phoenix Suns roster is accustomed to playing this way, it’s something the L.A. Clippers starting rotation is capable of but hadn’t yet displayed this season. The Clippers got their big-three of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul involved early offensively, who combined to score 17 of the team’s 24 first quarter points.

The Suns, whose first 7 points of the game were scored by Brandon Knight, heavily favored shots from either the perimeter or right inside the paint. During the first quarter, they managed to score 7 points off of five Clippers turnovers, while taking twice as many shots from behind the arc as the Clippers (making 2 of 8, versus the Clippers’ 1 of 4). Despite the perimeter differential, both teams shot poorly and played carelessly for the majority of the first quarter. And it was more of the same to start the 2nd quarter.

Marreese Speights, who has emerged as a key rotational player from the beginning of the preseason until now, was presented a clear mismatch in Alex Len. Len, like Speights, came off the bench, but managed to score 9 points in just 12 minutes; he baited Speights into multiple fakes, with all of his points coming from inside the paint during the first half. Speights, conversely, shot 1 for 4 in 6 minutes first-half play, missing both of his shots from behind the arc. Aside from a couple blazing-fast driving layups from Austin Rivers and a few impactful defensive stops by Wesley Johnson there wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about for the Clippers.

But once Doc Rivers opted to employ his favorite offensive unit, made up of Griffin, Jordan, and Paul, along with J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, the game began to shift. This Clippers unit was stellar at both ends of the floor to close out the half. Continuing to play uptempo basketball while cutting down on turnovers, the Clippers outscored the Suns during the second quarter 24-12.

The second half of the game began with both teams’ starting units, both looking to reinstate the same level of pace with which they began the game. But fouls, which were already a factor in the first half of the game, slowed the game down considerably for both sides. The Suns and Clippers both managed to score well, and in bunches, despite the tempo change, also aided by numerous trips to the free throw line. During the third quarter, the Clippers and Suns scored 34 apiece.

Despite a bit of offensive spark from Knight, T.J. Warren, and Eric Bledsoe from the very end of the third quarter through the beginning of the fourth, costly fouls became an issue once again for the Suns. Tyson Chandler fouled-out by the 7:51 mark during the fourth, and was replaced by Len, who entered with five fouls already. The Clippers continued to attack and move the ball well, absolutely dominating during the fourth quarter until it was clear the Suns could no longer recover.

What Went Wrong for the Suns

While this Phoenix Suns squad shows great potential and flashes of brilliance, their combined youth and inexperience hurt them throughout this matchup. Just about every front court player got themselves into foul trouble during the course of the game, and their rapid pace was likely what caused them to turn the ball over a total of 21 times. Despite that this was a back-to-back road game, the Suns will likely continue to struggle against good teams this season. But they’ve shown, through just four regular season games, that they can at least keep opposing teams within striking distance. They will be an exciting team to watch as long as they can begin to develop an identity and establish a core roster.

What the Clippers Did Well

Just about everything.

The game began a bit rocky, with the Clippers turning the ball over five times during the first quarter. The Suns were able to convert those turnovers into immediate points, and they forced the Clippers into shooting just 42.9% from the field. It was a wash after the first quarter, but through the remainder of the game, the Clippers demonstrated the ability to play at multiple speeds, score in a variety of ways, and quickly recognize individual and systematic mismatches. This was a solid win for the Clippers who also, for the third straight game, did not give up a rebounding advantage (tying the Suns 44-44 on the glass). The Clippers ended the game shooting 50% from the field, 37.5% from behind the arc, and 78.9% from the line. Griffin and Jordan both had double-doubles in scoring (21 for Griffin, 19 for Jordan) and rebounding (11 for both). Crawford, Griffin, Jordan, Paul, and Redick all scored in double figures, with Speights and Rivers adding 8 apiece. This was a great team effort by the Clippers, who hope to continue their win-streak against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.