Notebook: Suns 93, Clippers 88

Posted Jan 25, 2013 2:15 AM

Mike Tulumello, for

THE FACTS: The Lindsey Hunter era has started out as well as possible for the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns pulled away from the visiting Los Angeles Clippers late in winning 93-88 Thursday night. That makes the Suns (15-28) 2-0 under Hunter, who replaced Alvin Gentry last week. The Suns had lost 13 of 15 before the coaching change.

The Clippers (32-12) lost their third straight, their longest skid since a 4-game streak in November.

"Regardless of how you shoot, you have a chance if you defend," said Hunter, whose team held the Clippers to 40 percent shooting.

Goran Dragic led the Suns with 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds. "I'm glad to see him smiling and being himself," Hunter said of his point guard. "We're giving him a lot of freedom and responsibility."

"It feels great," said Dragic, who had expressed his disappointment with the Suns' sluggishness lately.

"This season is really crazy. We're going step by step. It's not a good picture yet."

Marcin Gortat added 14 points and nine boards. The Suns led narrowly through much of the game before moving out to an 86-79 lead with 3:00 left.

Jamal Crawford hit a 3-pointer off a fast break, the Clippers' first hoop in 4:00, to bring the Clippers to within 86-85 with 27 seconds left. But the Suns hit their free throws, while Crawford missed a free throw to preserve an 88-86 Suns' lead with 19.4 seconds left.

Then the Clippers committed a clear-path foul, leading to four straight free throws for the Suns, which sealed the game.

Crawford led the Clippers with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Blake Griffin had just 12 points and eight boards. Chris Paul sat out with a bruised right kneecap.

QUOTABLE: "Every loss is a bad loss."
-- Jamal Crawford

THE STAT: The Clippers missed 10 of 26 free throws.

TURNING POINT: With the score 80-79 Suns, Luis Scola hit a jumper and scored on a follow shot. Gortat hit a layup on a pass from Dragic, and the Suns had an 86-79 lead. The Clippers never got closer than one point.

QUOTABLE II: "I'll take the baby steps. I'm going to be positive. At the same time, I'm going to hold him accountable."
-- Lindsey Hunter on the inconsistent Michael Beasley

IN THE ARENA: Fans greeted the introduction of interim coach Hunter with scattered boos. They have expressed disappointment that assistant coach (and playing legend) Dan Majerle was passed over for Hunter, who has no coaching experience. Hunter had been in charge of player development for the Suns. Majerle and lead assistant Elston Turner left the organization after they were bypassed.

"It's at a different level, but it's basically the same thing," said Hunter, who has coached youth basketball. "All I ask is that no matter what you do, mistake or not, hustle back on defense and keep giving effort." Hunter won his first game (at Sacramento Tuesday)...Fans gave an ovation to Grant Hill, who was making his first appearance since departing the Suns last year. Hill was playing in his seventh game for the Clippers. Fans gave an even greater ovation to TNT broadcaster (and Suns playing legend) Charles Barkley....Owner Robert Sarver, who made unusual small talk with reporters before the game, cheered as enthusiastically has he has in memory from his courtside seat.

FANTASY SPOTLIGHT: The Suns' Scola has been on a high lately. Coming into the game, he'd averaged 17.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting nearly 50 percent over the previous 12 games.

NOTABLE: The Suns' Jermaine O'Neal revealed after the game that he's been missing games because of an irregular heartbeat. He is on medication and hopes to return as soon as a few days, though he says he will make his decisions cautiously.

UP NEXT: For the Clippers, Saturday @ Portland, Sunday vs. Portland and Wednesday @ Minnesota. For the Suns, Saturday @ San Antonio, Sunday @ Dallas and Wednesday vs. L.A. Lakers.