The Clippers entered Monday night’s matchup with the lowly Phoenix Suns needing an immediate and emphatic turnaround after slogging through a pair of double-digit losses. That may have been wishful thinking.
It took overtime and a late comeback in regulation to snap a two-game losing streak and outlast a severely undermanned Suns team, 123-119, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The win, against the owners of the league’s worst record, though, did little to quell some of the anxieties about the Clippers’ recent swoon. And with a challenging schedule over the next two and a half weeks, escaping Phoenix after holding their breath for seemingly 53-straight minutes of basketball was hardly ideal.
The Clippers (17-9) committed turnovers in bunches, got outshot from 3-point range, and routinely seemed a step slow. The beautiful ball movement and spirited defense that characterized the first six weeks of the season had wilted since losing by 10 in Memphis last week and scoring just eight points in the final quarter Saturday against Miami. On Monday it appeared the Clippers were on the verge of an even more embarrassing defeat.
The Suns (4-23), behind a fourth-quarter lineup of De’Anthony Melton, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Richaun Holmes and Troy Daniels earned a 104-95 lead with fewer than five minutes remaining before the Clippers finally strung together multiple stops. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, scored on a layup before Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari connected on back-to-back 3-pointers and Gilgeous-Alexander dropped in a silky pull-up and whirling layup to cap a 14-1 run.
Harris finished with a game-high 33 points and eight rebounds, while Gallinari had 25 points. The duo went 20-for-21 from the foul line. Holmes, Jackson, Bridges and Ayton all managed more than 15 points apiece for Phoenix.
Suns undrafted rookie De’Anthony Melton, who was forced into extended minutes due to the absence of Devin Booker (hamstring) and Jamal Crawford (knee), drilled a step-back jumper to tie the game with 5.5 seconds to go in regulation before Gallinari missed a contested 22-footer at the buzzer. Ultimately, the Clippers prevailed by outscoring the Suns, 12-8, in overtime, thanks to free throws by Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley, and a fortuitous bounce that led to a jump ball between Harris and Daniels after consecutive misses by the Suns in the final 30 seconds. Harris swatted the jump ball into the backcourt and Bradley retrieved it with the Clippers up two and was able to ice the game with a pair of foul shots.
To compound matters, the Clippers lost reserve guard Lou Williams 12 minutes into the game with an injured left hamstring. Williams will be re-evaluated tomorrow in Los Angeles when the team returns to face the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center, coincidentally the owners of the league’s best record.
While a disjointed effort may have been enough to sneak past Melton and Co. in the desert, the Clippers will need much more Tuesday.
The victory extended the Clippers winning streak against the Suns to 10 games, matching the club’s longest active streak against an opponent… Suns forward TJ Warren, who returned albeit briefly from an ankle injury, was ejected late in the second quarter for arguing a foul call against Ayton. It was Warren’s second ejection of the season… There were 17 ties in the game… The Suns had 31 assists, matching the second most by a Clippers opponent this season (32 by New Orleans on Dec. 3).
THEY GOT NEXT
The Clippers fly back to Los Angeles with the Toronto Raptors awaiting their return. The league’s top team so far might be facing the Clippers at their most vulnerable time, having lost three of their last four games, including two home games. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. PT on Prime Ticket.