The Clippers started off the game hot. Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari were too big and tall for the Suns to guard, and they were shooting right over the top of the Suns’ defenders. On defense, the Clippers played Booker tough, hedging on pick and rolls to get the ball out of his hands and force other guys to create. This strategy paid off, as Booker couldn’t get going, and the Suns offense looked out of sorts. The game really turned when Beverley came in for Shai after Shai picked up his second foul: he brought a ton of energy, and the Clippers all of a sudden were all over the court forcing misses and getting loose balls. Lou Williams buried a couple threes, and the Clippers had a 19 point lead entering the 2nd quarter.
The second quarter went even better than the first did. The Clippers were incredibly active, and their ability to get out in transition led to several easy threes and layups. Ty Wallace in particular made his presence felt, snagging offensive rebounds, attacking the basking, and being a general pest. The Suns, however, gave no indication that they wanted to play, much less win, and their effort was near zero. Nothing much changed when the starters came back in. Shai passed up several open looks in favor of passing, and while it would be great to see him more confident, he did rack up seven first-half assists. The Clippers led by 24 entering halftime, with the game seemingly assured.
The Suns made a bit of a run at the start of the third, using some sloppy Clippers’ play to cut into the lead. However, the Clippers quickly reasserted themselves, mostly on the strength of scores and offensive rebounds by Marcin Gortat, who had himself a game against the Suns’ weak interior defense. The Clippers actually had the lead at 30 points, and seemed to be in cruise control. Then, suddenly, the wheels came off. The Suns went on a 22-5 run, as the Clippers rushed shots, forced bad passes, and played virtually no defense. Tobias Harris and Lou Williams were two notable offenders, and the Clippers’ mojo was gone as quickly as it had arrived.
The fourth quarter started just as badly, as the sloppy Clippers’ play continued. Despite forcing a couple steals of their own, the Clippers inability to hold onto the ball kept the Suns in it. The Clippers’ lead varied between 11 to 15 points for much of the quarter, as they were never able to break away, but the Suns couldn’t pull closer. Then, some outstanding play from Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari helped the Clippers get a bit of separation, as they made easy plays for others and hit timely buckets. The rest of the game was essentially just extended garbage time but with starters playing, as the two teams traded baskets until the final buzzer, with the Clippers winning 121-111.
- Marcin Gortat’s best game as a Clipper: Corey Maggette used the word “spectacular” to describe Marcin’s play tonight, and the word is apt. Gortat had 18 points on 8-10 shooting, and collected 13 rebounds, 5 of which were offensive – all in 25 minutes. He looked refreshed and reenergized (possibly because the Clippers have had a few days off, and barely had to travel), and was engaged from the outset. The Clippers can’t expect this from him every night, or even most nights, but if they could get this kind of performance slightly more frequently, their outlook at center would be a lot brighter.
- Pat Beverley continues to improve: After a quietly excellent December, Pat Beverley kept January going in style tonight. He had 16 points, hit four threes, collected a handful of rebounds and assists, and generally played with a ton of energy. The Clippers’ game-ending run at the end of the 1st and start of the 2nd quarters was largely due to Beverley, who really got the Clippers going and kept the team fighting even when they looked like they were slipping in the 3rd quarter. His outside shot is on the money, his quickness appears to have returned (he had a sweet drive against Ayton late in the 4th), and he’s slowly adjusting to the new defensive rules. Welcome back, Pat.
- Gallinari steadies the ship: Danilo Gallinari has been (by far) the Clippers’ most consistent player this season, and it showed again tonight. He scored 21 points on only 11 shots, and spread his scoring throughout the game. Whenever the Clippers needed a score, they went to Gallo, and he delivered every time. He also hit the boards, and made several gorgeous passes out of the post to cutters and open shooters. Gallo’s just played excellently all season, and while other players continue to get more buzz than he does, he’s probably the most worthy of an All-Star nod in February. As long as the Rooster stays healthy, the Clippers will be in solid shape, particularly on offense.
- Shai gets career high in assists: It was another up-and-down night from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He once again got in foul trouble early, and that can’t have made him or the Clippers’ coaching staff very happy. He also passed up several open looks, and doesn’t appear to be as confident a scorer as he was a month or two ago. On the other hand, his defense was mostly good otherwise, and he carved up the Suns’ defense all night long with his passing. In particular, he had a few beautiful passes to Gortat for easy dunks, and kept the big man feeding early and often. It would be great if Shai could recapture the aggressive, scoring touch he had early this season, but he still gave the Clippers a lot of positive play tonight.
- Third quarter woes: This is not the first time that the Clippers have come up short in the 3rd quarter, though this was unusual in that the bench was mostly in the game, not the starters. Nonetheless, the Clippers need to figure out why their 3rd quarters go wrong so badly, so often. Good teams can win games off just one poor stretch, and while the Suns are far from good, they made this game way more interesting than it should have been.