Clippers run away from Suns
LOS ANGELES — Back when the season began and members of the retooled Los Angeles Clippers’ roster felt optimistic about the road ahead, defense was touted as a strength.
Injuries have since derailed all that promise, yet suddenly that defensive intensity the Clippers planned to use as a calling card has returned.
Making things difficult on the young Phoenix Suns all night, the Clippers rolled to a 108-95 victory, enjoying a rare laugher in a season when four of the five opening-night starters have missed significant time.
The Clippers (12-18) held Phoenix to 31.9 percent shooting in the first half and 36.1 percent for the game.
Los Angeles’ Austin Rivers scored 21 points, while Lou Williams had 18 off the bench. DeAndre Jordan hauled down 20 rebounds and added 12 points.
“You look at our trend the last four or five games, and we have held (three) opponents under 100,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re starting to do things right. We’re switching (on defense) a lot, more than I would ever switch, but with this group, it’s easier for them and allows them to be more athletic.”
The Clippers ended a three-game losing streak, while the Suns (11-22) saw their brief two-game win streak come to a close. Phoenix has yet to win three consecutive games this season.
Playing without leading scorer Devin Booker, sidelined since sustaining a left adductor strain on Dec. 5, the Suns had few answers on offense. Phoenix’s TJ Warren finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Josh Jackson had 17 points.
The Phoenix bench, which averaged 62 points per game during the team’s brief winning streak, had 40 on Wednesday, with only nine coming in the first half.
“It bothered us,” Suns coach Jay Triano said of the Clippers’ tight defense. “We knew they were going to be aggressive. We didn’t move the ball the way we normally have been moving the ball, so that made it difficult. And I thought we missed a bunch of early shots and didn’t have a lot of energy tonight.”
The Clippers might be 2-3 in their last five games, but they have held Orlando, Miami and now Phoenix to fewer than 100 points, while Washington scored exactly 100 on Friday. And in losing 109-91 to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, the defensive effort wasn’t exactly frowned upon.
“I think even in San Antonio our defense was good, we just didn’t make shots,” Austin Rivers said. “This is the best defense we played all season, and we’re back to our defensive form from the start. It just took time to communicate with guys you’re not used to playing with.”
Not only is All-Star forward Blake Griffin out for another month with a left knee sprain, but forward Danilo Gallinari could miss another six weeks with a tear in his left glute. Defensive-minded point guard Patrick Beverley is already lost for the season after knee surgery.
Jamil Wilson, who played in the D-League last season, and C.J. Williams, who has spent time with the Agua Caliente Clippers of the G League this season, were in the starting lineup for the NBA club Wednesday night, but it was enough to dispatch the Suns.
C.J. Williams scored 12 points, while Wilson and Montrezl Harrell had 11 each as the Clippers won their third consecutive home game.
Lou Williams, the Clippers’ high-scoring reserve guard, shot 6 of 18 from the field after missing the Monday loss to the Spurs with a right foot sprain. Point guard Milos Teodosic had eight assists for the Clippers, his most since returning to action Dec. 11 following a left foot injury.
The Clippers are 4-7 since losing Griffin to his knee sprain on Nov. 30. The Suns are 2-5 since losing Booker, who is expected to return in two to three weeks.
“We just have to try and play better on defense, focus more and execute our offense,” the Suns’ Jackson said. “I think a lot of times we were just standing around a little bit with the shot clock winding down and we ended up putting up a bad shot.”
NOTES: Clippers F Danilo Gallinari will be out of action longer than expected after a scan revealed Wednesday that he has a partial tear in his left glute. Gallinari has played only two games since Nov. 5 because of two separate glute injuries. ... With his 20 rebounds Wednesday, Clippers C DeAndre Jordan leads the NBA with an average of 17.4 rebounds per game in December. ... G Isiah Canaan, the first player in Suns history to score 15-plus points and grab five-plus assists in his first two games with the team while coming off the bench, had 10 points and three assists as a reserve Wednesday in his third game. ... With six rebounds, Suns C Tyson Chandler reached 9,900 for his career, 40th all time.