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Strong Second Half Propels Los Angeles Clippers to Victory Over Phoenix Suns 115-99

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After a sloppy, turnover-filled first half, the Clippers used a strong third quarter and solid fourth to beat the last-place Suns.

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

Key Stats:

Danilo Gallinari: 28 points, 10 rebounds, +27 (First double-double as a Clipper)

Lou Williams: 20 points, four rebounds

Tobias Harris: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3-6 3-pointers

Montrezl Harrell: 18 points, six rebounds, 9-14 FG

Boban Marjanovic: 12 points, 12 rebounds, 6-6 FT

Game Summary:

This was a game that the Clippers had to win. It doesn’t have any bearing on immediate playoff chances or standing purposes, but if they had lost to a last-place team, it would leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. This is especially so after losing a 24-point lead against the struggling Washington Wizards the week prior. In the first half, the Clippers did what they have done all season thus far: let a bad team stick around. The Clippers have an issue with playing down to their competition thus far. Although they have closed out games against bad teams for the most part, it usually comes in the second half. This game was no different.

In the first quarter, the starters came out lacking energy and cold from the field. Shots weren’t falling, the defense was solid but not great, and the energy in the arena reeked of a midweek game against a struggling team. However, with the talent disparity between the two teams, the Clips held onto a slim lead. Saving graces in the first came in the form of Boban Marjanovic and Danilo Gallinari, who seemed like they were the only two who could score at all. It didn’t help that the bench came in and laid an egg, ending with every single bench player in the negative in plus/minus at the end of the first half.

The second quarter was more of the same as the Suns won the quarter scoring wise and were getting some easy shots to go. Guys like Elie Okobo and Richaun Holmes were having their way against the Clips defense and the offense wasn’t helping out much. L.A. was held to 23 points in the frame. Lou Williams had six of those points and Gallinari was hitting shots, as he was the only consistent scoring starter for the majority of this game. The game was tied at 49 heading into halftime, and the Clips looked bored. A super inefficient (shooting under 37% at halftime) half and just an overall dud.

The third quarter is where the Clippers have had some highs and some lows this season. Who can forget the 20+ point lead blown against the Oklahoma City Thunder? However, tonight was different as the Clips finally put their foot down on the gas against this struggling Suns team and scored 40 points in the frame, winning the quarter by 15. Gallinari got hot, nailing threes and getting to the line, Harris hit back-to-back threes, Montrezl Harrell brought energy as did Boban, who had a great night with a double-double. By the end of the quarter, the Clips had a 15 point lead.

The fourth was a little bit more of an up-and-down affair as the Suns were nailing shots and staying in the game, while the Clips were getting a little sloppy. For a little more than half of the frame, the second and third unit guys were getting tim; however, Doc inserted the starters (with Lou and Trez) after a mini Suns run. This is not something he wanted to do, as the Clips play the Sacramento Kings tomorrow night on a back-to-back. However, their energy was needed as Tobias connected with Harrell on a few pick-and-rolls for eight straight Trez points and also added some solid defense and rebounding. Trez had 12 fourth quarter points after a quiet first half. All in all, the game was in the bag after the third and while the Suns played well in the fourth, the Clips closed them out to the tune of a 16-point final margin.

Notes:

Contained Ayton: Deandre Ayton had the worst game of his young career tonight, scoring a season-low four points on 1-of-4 shooting. He also had five fouls and two turnovers and looked flustered in the face of Boban and Harrell. Before this game, Ayton had scored in double figures in 11 straight games.

Rebounds galore: While the Clips don’t pass the eye test of being a top 10 rebounding team in the league, they certainly showed that tonight. By plugging in Boban for the injured Marcin Gortat, the Clips had a size advantage early and took advantage of that. In this morning’s game preview I said that winning the battle of the glass would be big for the Clips and they absolutely did this, outrebounding the Suns by 22, 56 to 34.

Shai was aggressive: SGA looked a lot more aggressive than he usually does. Early on, he was attacking the rim with abandon and shooting jumpers. It looks as though assistant coach Sam Cassell has Shai experimenting with nearly every game in what he does offensively. Tonight was an aggressive stance, and with Shai shooting 11 shots, scoring 13 points, dishing out six assists and pulling down seven boards, it worked. Shai does need to cut down on turnovers (4) however, as he forces passes inside too much.

21 turnovers, yikes: Look, I know the Clippers knew they were probably going to win this game from the jump and that they were playing with a certain ease, but throwing 21 turnovers is unacceptable. Against a half-decent NBA team that results in a big fat L. This comes after giving up the ball a franchise-low four times Sunday in Portland. Hopefully this doesn’t happen again.