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The Clippers Sucked Less Than the Suns, 111-99

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At least they won.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This was a terrible game, and it wasn’t just the powder blue vs. purple jersey matchup.

Were the Clippers tired? Yeah, of course. This was their 10th game, eighth on the road, in 16 days. That’s a lot of travel.

Could they have played better? OH YEAH.

But fortunately, for them and for their playoff chances, the Clippers’ worst effort was still better than what 30th-ranked Phoenix could muster, and they swept aside the Devin Booker/T.J. Warren/Alex Len/Tyson Chandler/Elfrid Payton-less Suns, 111-99.

“But they won by 12!” say you who looked at the box score. Yup, and they did it with a 20-0 run that came four quarters later than most expected. This was a game for three quarters. Well, it was CLOSE for three quarters. It only sorta resembled a game.

This scrimmage featured 12 lead changes, which was 12 more than this writer anticipated after the Clippers took a 2-0 lead. But it became apparent very quickly that the Clippers were content to spectate for 36 minutes before turning it up late. The Suns led after the first quarter. They were down just two at the half, and just three heading into the final quarter.

What’s weird is how the Suns kept pace for so long while checking so few of the typical upset boxes. Did they go nuts from deep? Nope, they only made ten three-pointers on worse than 30% shooting. Did they win the turnover battle? Yes, but not by an extraordinary amount — they were a decent-but-not-astounding +5 after three quarters. Were the referees unusually generous with them? They only shot 18 free throws, seven fewer than LA, although credit for that may lie more with Clipper defenders too disinterested even to reach or grab. The Clippers even bested the Suns in paint scoring and offensive rebounding.

Did one of the Suns go on an insane scoring binge? Not really. Tyler Ulis scored a solid 23. Rookie and scary-wing-to-be Josh Jackson had 18. Shaquille Harrison poured in a career-high 17 off the bench, which makes me happy for him but isn’t the kind of whoa-where-did-that-come-from performance that usually powers unexpected results.

The Clippers just didn’t look for stops. Even their clinching run lacked defensive inspiration. The Suns missed a lot of shots, because bad teams missing most of their few good players usually do.

Also, thank goodness for Tyrone Wallace, who started in Milos Teodosic’s place and competed with Tobias Harris for the title of “Best Clipper on the Floor.” Wallace’s final numbers were modest enough (12 points, seven rebounds, three steals, one assist), but his endless movement and precocious defense dragged the Clippers through some muddy spots. Tobias brought the scoring with his usual ease and efficiency, tallying a game-high 27 on the strength of five threes.

Austin Rivers had a solid game too, earning a team-high +25 rating with 18 points, eight assists, and three steals. DeAndre was something less than engaged, but found his usual 13 and 15. He even handed out four assists.

So wipe your brow and be glad this game was over in a tidy two hours. With Utah’s last-second loss to Boston, the Clippers sit just a single game out of the playoff bracket with seven games remaining. They’ll need some help from the teams above them, but they can do their part by continuing to win. And by making sure this was their last worst game of the season.

Notables:

  • C.J. Williams returned to action with 17 workmanlike minutes. Montrezl Harrell scored 10 points and a hellacious dunk.
  • DeAndre Jordan became the eighth Clipper to reach 7,000 points.