The skeleton crew finally broke through.
After six straight losses, five of which came with Chris Paul on the sideline, the rest of the Clippers finally triumphed Tuesday night, defeating the Phoenix Suns. Normally, this might not be a notable win, but given how poorly the Clippers have played without Paul and Blake Griffin, it certainly meant something to the players on the floor.
Led by J.J. Redick early, the Clippers’ hot shooting kept the came competitive despite 8 first-quarter turnovers. Redick finished with 22 points on 9-14 shooting, and one of his three triples was a dagger within the last two minutes. Jamal Crawford returned to form after a dismal road trip that saw him shoot just 5-29 from the field, posting a 18-point, 5-assist, 7-rebound night. Brandon Bass continued his strong play with 10 points on 4-5 shooting, and Luc Mbah a Moute turned in an efficient 13-point night on offense, shooting 5-6 from the field and making his only three. DeAndre Jordan wasn’t overly engaged over the course of the game, but he still pulled down 20 rebounds, helping the Clippers win the battle on the glass, 51-47.
Up and down the roster, players contributed. Doc Rivers employed a 9-man rotation, opting again to exclude Paul Pierce from the rotation as well as sitting Alan Anderson. Rivers also went with a three-guard lineup in the starting unit, which helped to alleviate some of the offensive woes that LAC has suffered in Paul’s absence. Often, Raymond Felton or Austin Rivers have been the lone offensive creators, playing alongside J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, DeAndre Jordan, and either Wesley Johnson or Paul Pierce. Tonight, Felton and Rivers shared the starting lineup and the offense flowed more freely from the start. Doc Rivers credited that lineup switch as the cause of the Clippers’ improved offense, but noted that against teams with big small forwards it is harder to go with 3-guard lineups.
Crawford’s solid performance and some well-executed staggering kept the Clippers on the right side of the game’s big runs. It was a 12-0 run in the late third quarter that really gave the Clippers the buffer they needed to come out on top. That run pushed the home team’s lead to 17, which kept the Suns at arm’s length throughout the final frame. Even as Phoenix chipped away at the lead, cutting it as low as 6 points with 1:04 to play, they had trouble mustering the firepower that would have been necessary to overcome such a large margin.
Notably, the Clippers’ best offensive performance since Paul went out came not from a Jamal Crawford explosion, but from a balanced attack. Of the Clippers’ 9 rotation players, Wesley Johnson finished with the lowest scoring total with 3 points—every other player finished with at least 9 points, and five Clippers reached double figures with only breaking 20 points.
The Clippers’ defense was impressive, too. The Suns’ two leading scorers on the season, Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe, combined for 35 points on just 12-42 shooting from the field. The Suns as a whole shot 38.2% from the field, a sign of the pressure the Clippers put on them throughout the game.
Finally, tonight, things broke the Clippers’ way. J.J. Redick was well defended but made some tough shots and benefited from some fortunate bounces off of deflections. The Clippers were on the right side of the officiating crew, being called for 8 less fouls and shooting 16 more free throws. Open shots finally fell, rebounds bounced in the right direction, and L.A. finally got out of a two-week-long rut.
The biggest weak point of the game for the Clippers was the turnovers—they shot 47% for the night but gave away 20 possessions with turnovers. DeAndre noted postgame that some of those were a result of urgency on the Clippers’ part, so desperate to win that they played a little fast at times. Either way, the Clippers need cut back on giveaways in order to win games moving forward.
This win is a huge relief for the shorthanded Clippers, who snap a miserable 6-game losing streak and can finally pick their heads up as a unit, having won a game without Chris Paul. The status of Paul’s hamstring is still up in the air for Wednesday night’s match-up against the Memphis Grizzlies, and if they have to play without him again, finally having earned a win will provide a confidence boost.