FINAL | January 24, 2013 | US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ  

Clippers

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ERIC PATTEN 

PHOENIX–The Clippers got what they wanted in the final 20 seconds Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns, a play going to the basket and a pair of free throws from Jamal Crawford, to try and slice into a three-point Suns lead.

But Crawford, an 88.1% foul shooter on the year, missed the first of two free throws and a clear-path foul on Caron Butler three seconds later proved the Clippers’ demise in the desert.

They lost their third-straight game, 93-88, compiling their second longest losing streak of the season.


The Suns (15-28) moved to 2-0 under interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, while the Clippers (32-12) remain in third place in the Western Conference behind San Antonio and Oklahoma City. They are 3-2 this season without Chris Paul, who sat out for the fifth time in the last seven games with a bruised right kneecap.

“We had opportunities in the second half, but didn’t shoot the ball well. A lot of guys struggled from the field,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’ve got to do a little bit better job of making shots and making it a little bit easier on guys.

“Down the stretch there was a tough call on us, the breakaway, two free throws and the ball. We were trying to deny as much as we could. We didn’t have any timeouts left. We just didn’t make enough shots when we needed to. We didn’t make enough shots when we had to.”

Already down Paul, Clippers’ superstar Blake Griffin limped through Thursday as well.

Overall, the Clippers struggled from the field, shooting 39.8%, and seemingly could never find a rhythm without Paul, and Griffin clearly hobbled after he stepped on Goran Dragic’s foot chasing down a loose ball early in the first quarter.

Still, they hung around long enough to have a chance in the final minute. Eric Bledsoe, who started at point guard, rejected a runner by Dragic as the shot-clock was winding down, jumped again to grab the ball, pushed it up the court and kicked out to Crawford for a 3-pointer from the left corner to bring the Clippers within one with 26.9 seconds remaining.

They were down by six less than a minute earlier, but three consecutive stops and a pair of Bledsoe free throws helped give them a chance. The Suns, though, made free throws down the stretch and benefitted from a three-point possession after Butler’s clear-path foul on Shannon Brown.

Afterwards Crawford pointed to that swing as the difference in the game. “Obviously I missed a free throw and they got some free throws and knocked them down and we were just playing catch up at that point.”

Moment of Truth: Phoenix closed things out on Butler’s clear-path foul which resulted in two free throws from Brown and a 1-for-2 trip to the line from Markieff Morris. It extended the Suns’ lead to 91-86 with 14.7 seconds left. However, Del Negro said he felt like one of the game’s crucial points was nearly five minutes earlier.

Down one with 4:35 left following an alley-oop layup by Griffin, Phoenix scored on the next three possessions.

“We’ve got to be a little bit sharper, especially in the fourth quarter,” Del Negro said. “We were down one, I believe it was, with about five minutes to go and they went on a little three-basket run and that hurt us.”

Bledsoe said it seemed like every time the Clippers would make a push, they would give up ground—evident by the 6-0 run that Del Negro alluded to.

“It was like we’d make a stop and then give up like two or three stops,” Bledsoe said. “Then on top of that we weren’t playing our type of defense, staying on top of our man, getting out in transition, running so it was just kind of a crazy night.”

Difference Maker: Dragic. The left-handed point guard got to the basket early and hit a few timely jumpers later. He scored a game-high 24 points with eight assists and five rebounds and shook off a hard foul by Butler on a fast-break layup attempt. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat scored crunch-time baskets for the Suns, all set up by Dragic’s ability to get in the lane and leave the Clippers’ scrambling.

“I am just glad to see him smiling and being himself,” Hunter said. “You want your point guard to always have the ultimate confidence. To make mistakes, to play through them. To have the total command of the team. That is what as a staff we have tried to give to him.”

Stat Line of the Night: Crawford. After missing out on his first All-Star berth (see below), Crawford seemed somewhat passive early on. But after connecting on a finger-roll layup in the second quarter, he went on to shoot 8-for-13 for a team-high 21 points off the bench. Crawford leads the NBA with 17 20-point games as a reserve. He also matched Lamar Odom for a team-high four assists.

More Stats: 

Griffin. Playing through pain in his left ankle, Griffin had 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He was limited to just nine shot attempts and went 2-for-8 from the free throw line after shooting 80% over the last six-plus games. Despite his struggles, Griffin said there were no excuses.  

“It starts with me,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to do a better job, setting a tone early and being a leader out there, especially when Chris isn’t out there. I’ve got to do a better job.”

Bledsoe. Plagued by foul trouble most of the night, Bledsoe played 29:30, scoring 15 points with seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. He also had five points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer from straightaway to make pull within 76-75.

“I’d get going,” said Bledsoe, who fouled out for the second time in his career. “We’d take the lead. We went on like a 9-0 run, then I’d mess around and commit a silly foul and come out of the game.”

Hot: Phoenix at the foul line. Dragic and Morris took went 18-of-25 from the charity stripe and the Suns made 28 of their 37 foul shots overall. They received two off of technical fouls assessed to Del Negro and Crawford at the end of the first half when they argued with an official after Crawford appeared to be pushed in the back on jump shot attempt with 0.3 seconds left.

Not: The Clippers. Del Negro called the offense “stagnant” and Griffin said it “didn’t feel the same.” Both were correct as the Clippers shot 39.8% and went through several spells were nothing seemed to come easy offensively. They failed to score 100 points for the fifth straight game and shot under 40% for the fourth time all season.  

Quotables:

On the game:

Crawford: “They played with a lot of energy. You would think they were coming off a back to back we would be the team with more energy.”

On whether or not losing a game like this is frustrating:

Lamar Odom: “Yeah, it was close. It’s always to lose any game, but we’ll get better in practice tomorrow. We have to stay mentally tough and execute so we can win games down the stretch.”

On limiting dunks and alley-oops by Clippers:

Scola: “We were doing a good job and then in the first or second quarter – the first half, they got a few dunks and a few fast breaks and we kind of lost control a little bit for a couple minutes and that’s when they made their run. Then we stuck with it.”

Notes: Scola had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Suns… The Clippers are 7-6 since their franchise-record 17-game winning streak… Odom had 11 rebounds, extending his stretch of at least seven boards to eight straight games, but managed just 2-for-11 shooting and four points.

CRAWFORD NOT SELECTED AS ALL-STAR RESERVE

Prior to the game Crawford found out he was not named as one of seven reserves to the Western Conference All-Star team. Several of his teammates and coaches voiced their displeasure with Crawford’s omission.

“It’s difficult,” Del Negro said. “Obviously, we got two guys in it. With our record and the way Jamal has performed and been such a catalyst for us. You just want your guys who are having such good years to be able to play in that. Jamal’s having a tremendous year for us.”

Chauncey Billups, who is a five-time All-Star, added: “It’s disappointing. I think Jamal is definitely deserving. I thought he definitely deserved it this year. He’s played an unbelievable role on this team, which is a very good team. He has a lot of responsibility on this team and his responsibility is as much as most any other All-Star. You come in here when the team is struggling and put them on their back and that’s what he does. He rarely lets us down, man, and I feel bad he didn’t make it because he deserves it.” 

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