Clippers stay hot and beat short-handed Phoenix despite late Suns surge

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Joined: Nov 2016

Given more time to practice than usual around the holidays, the Clippers spent it trying to put in more plays. The offense they had run, even while rolling through December’s schedule, had been essentially a fraction of coach Tyronn Lue’s playbook, the result of the team trying to keep things simple while integrating new players and playing new rotations.

The Clippers kept rolling Wednesday, their 131-122 win against short-handed Phoenix improving them to 21-12 and winners of 13 of their last 15 games. A sore hamstring sidelined Phoenix star Kevin Durant, which once again robbed the Suns of another chance to play their all-star “Big Three.” Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Durant have appeared in only four games together for a grand total of 65 minutes.

Read more: Clippers’ Norman Powell learns to accept role, no matter how big or small

In struggling to close out the victory, after leading by as many as 23 points in the second half, the Clippers also lent credence to why they felt their offense was a work in progress. They scored only 24 points in the fourth quarter and Lue felt his team had done a poor job reacting to the Suns’ barrage of double teams.

Even still, the Clippers shot 55% overall and made 18 of their 34 three-pointers, one off their season high for made three-pointers. They also earned 32 free throws, making 29.

Paul George scored 33 points and Kawhi Leonard had 30, while James Harden scored 22 points with 11 assists.

Clippers forward Paul George (13) is fouled by Suns guard Bradley Beal, left, as George dives for the ball Wednesday in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

With Devin Booker taking more shots in the third quarter (six) than he did during the first half (five), the Suns scored 40 points in the quarter. It still left the Suns, possibly the league’s most ineffective fourth-quarter team, trailing by 16 against a Clippers team that was 18-1 when leading entering the final quarter.

Leading by 18 with 9:08 to play, the Clippers’ lead was reduced to just eight less than three minutes later. Even using one of their most statistically potent lineups — their starters, with reserve Norman Powell replacing Terance Mann — had little effect. Three consecutive possessions illustrated the quicksand into which their offense had fallen. Josh Okogie blocked a three-pointer by Harden. The 6-foot-4 Okogie then stuffed 7-foot center Ivica Zubac at the rim, forcing a jump ball. Their next possession ended with a shot-clock violation.

Their troubles continued. After Leonard made free throws with 6:04 to play, the Clippers did not score again for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. With two minutes to play, the lead was again eight — when Harden, wearing his signature sneakers in the maroon-and-gold colors of his college, Arizona State, made a step-back three-pointer.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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