The Clippers extended their win streak to four with a 111-95 victory over the league-leading Phoenix Suns.
After both teams were held scoreless in the first two minutes, some hot shooting at the end of the first quarter led to a Clippers lead of 27-21 entering the Clippers favorite quarter.
The Chris Paul midrange machine geared up during the second quarter. But countered by some aggressive shooting from Marcus Morris Sr., some improved passing from the Clippers centers, and some foul trouble for the Suns, the Clippers maintained a double-digit lead of 56-44 into the half.
Ivica Zubac quietly had a hugely impactful game. With a handful of hustle plays, a couple of surprisingly exciting passes (perhaps the influence of playing with and against Isaiah Hartenstein?), and overall domineering defensive presence, Zubac took advantage of the injuries and foul trouble that forced the Suns to go small for much of the game. This aggression did take a toll on him, however, as he, in turn, also got into some foul trouble in the third. Zubac finished with eight points, five rebounds, and four blocks.
Luckily, Hartenstein, the net rating leader for the Clippers was ready to step up. And while he may not be the physical lid on the basket that Zubac is, he makes up for it with an even harder motor and quicker feet.
Morris and Kennard, two other starters (at least for the time being) also showed why they’re each paid $16 million a year. With a 24-point, 11-rebound outing, Morris stepped up on both ends of the floor for the Clippers tonight; he also continued to provide leadership on and off the court, which is especially needed in a time when vocal veterans Paul George and Nic Batum are hampered by injuries. The Clippers improve to a 14-1 record over the last three seasons when Morris scores 20 or more points in a game. With 16 points and nine rebounds, Kennard maintained his stellar offensive production of late. Terance Mann, with 17 points and nine rebounds on 70 percent shooting, also contributed to the Clippers win tonight.
It is hard to overemphasize just how impactful the Clippers defense was tonight. The term “stifling” is often thrown around by NBA media, but tonight the defense was truly stifling. And it took a total, team effort to get there. The Clippers’ meticulousness on the defensive end, however, was counterbalanced by carelessness on the offensive end. With 16 turnovers, the Clippers passing and ball-handling leave room to improve. After shooting 18 free throws to two for the Suns in the first half, the Clippers gave up 19 free throws in the third quarter, while only generating two themselves.
While Morris led the team in production tonight, no one player truly took over the game. This production by committee, however, may just be even more powerful. Taking down a foe like the first-seeded Suns, even without Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, should do wonders for the momentum of the Clippers this season.
The Clippers will visit Utah, seeking their fifth win in a row, on Wednesday.