Bring on the break.
Returning home for a single game before an eight-day layoff for All-Star Weekend, the Clippers dismantled the hapless Phoenix Suns, 134-107, at Staples Center Wednesday night. In doing so, they swept the season series with the West’s worst team, and reclaimed the No. 8 spot in the playoff race.
The Clippers (32-27) systematically dismantled Phoenix (11-48), earning a commanding 10-point lead in the first quarter and using a combination of youthful exuberance and intensity to pull away. By the time the middle of the third quarter rolled around, they were up by 30.
With five new faces on the roster, the All-Star break ahead, and the first home game in two weeks, in a lot of ways, it was like a second opportunity for a home opener. And the Clippers played like it.
There was a bounce to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game that resembled the confident, smooth operator we witnessed take over in stretches back in November. There was newcomer and fellow rookie Landry Shamet, starting for the first time, gliding to the rim on the opening possession for layup on a well-executed back cut. There was Danilo Gallinari finding his stride for 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting, in his most efficient game since returning from back spasms against Indiana last week. There was Patrick Beverley holding Suns star Devin Booker without a field goal for the first 23:21. And, of course, there was Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.
Coming off a 45-point outing on Monday, Williams scored a game-high 30 points off the bench. He has now topped 30 points or more in four of his past eight games, including joining Bobby Portis as just the second player this season to have back-to-back 30-plus point games as a reserve. Williams also dished 10 assists, and Harrell added 19 points. The duo, which is reaching a certain epic status for bench players, went a combined 20-for-31 from the floor.
The Suns are by no means a litmus test for the Clippers, but there were things both relieving and revealing about Wednesday’s blowout. First, the trend of falling behind to inferior opponents was short-lived (LA had trailed by 20 points in each of their six games on the Grammy road trip). Second, the youngsters, including new center Ivica Zubac, seemed to find their footing together. Sure, they were wonderful in Saturday’s historic comeback against Boston, but in just a brief time together so far, Wednesday offered the first chance to see them put together a consistent effort from tip off to final buzzer. Finally, the idea that the Clippers are devaluing making the playoffs may have been a little premature and much exaggerated. The current group has 23 games remaining, and with the Kings losing to Denver at the buzzer earlier in the night, they enter the break with a 0.016% hold on 8th place in the West. If they weren’t invested in making a run at it, Wednesday would have been the perfect opportunity to get off to a lethargic start, let a bad Suns team hang around, and cough up a game they should win. Instead, they played with a focus that bodes well moving into the season’s stretch run.
The Clippers have defeated the Suns 12 consecutive times, their longest active winning streak against any opponent… Former Clipper Jamal Crawford made his six of his eight shots and scored 17 points off the bench. He also surpassed Eddie Johnson to become to league’s all-time leading scorer among players who have never made an All-Star team, fittingly doing so in front of a Staples Center crowd who still holds him in reverence. Crawford is 56th all-time in total points scored… Kelly Oubre scored a career-high 28 points for the Suns…
THEY GOT NEXT
With the All-Star break arriving after Thursday’s light slate of NBA games, the Clippers don’t play again for more than a week. They’ll return to the road on Friday, Feb. 22 when they travel to Memphis (22-36) to open up a five-game stretch against Western Conference opponents, including four on the road. The Clippers split the previous two games this season against the Grizzlies.