There are a lot of reasons the Phoenix Suns lost to the Los Angeles Clippers for the first time in nine meetings. Robin Lopez (2 points) and Goran Dragic (5 points) had horrible games and Hakim Warrick's defense continues to be abysmal, but the loss this time has to be hung on the entire team for starting so slow. The Suns gave up 33 points on 72.2 percent shooting in the first quarter and found themselves in a 33-18 hole to the Clippers.
The road team finally woke up and were able to win the middle two quarters and were down by just one point headed into the fourth with all the opportunity in the world the get the much-needed win over a young, but talented Clippers team. The Clippers, however, showed some progress and the Suns veterans Nash and Hill ran out of gas down the stretch.
The key turning point in the game came in the third quarter when Alvin Gentry decided he'd had enough of Blake Griffin killing his power forwards so he gave the defensive assignment on the beast to Grant Hill. Hill, along with some good hard traps, shut Blake down for third quarter and held the Clippers to just 18 points. Griffin had just two points in ten minutes in the third but got riled up by some physical play and bounced back in the fourth with seven points in six minutes before fouling out.
The brightest spot for the Suns was new-comer Mickael Pietrus who showed the combination of perimeter defense and clutch shooting that will make him a fan favorite in Phoenix in no time if he plays at anything close to this level. Pietrus finished with a team-high 25 points and mixed in a few aggressive drives along with his five three-point shots.
Marcin Gortat was solid as well and thoroughly out-played Lopez, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes. Unfortunately, Gortat will forever be on the wrong side of this Blake Griffin poster. Of course, there are going to be a lot of NBA players who can say that.
For all the talk about getting bigger, it was the Suns smaller lineups that were most effective. The combination of either Gortat or Frye at center and Nash running point along with three wing players gave the Suns defense a more cohesive and aggressive look. Hill, Pietrus and Josh Childress will likely end up splitting time at power forward if Hakim Warrick doesn't figure out the defensive part of his role. Warrick recorded only seven minutes and didn't play at all in the second half.
It is understandable that the Suns will need some time to adjust to the new players and having Vince Carter in the starting lineup should help the second unit maintain a bit more offensive punch and defensive intensity with Dudley and Pietrus in their appropriate bench roles. That said, it is unacceptable that the Suns would be so lax early in the game and there's little doubt that Coach Gentry will make that point known.
The Suns (13-16) have now lost three-straight games and fall to three games under .500 for the first time this season. The team will have the next two days off before facing the Philadelphia 76ers (11-18) at home on Wednesday.