Clippers, looking to rise in Pacific, induce Sun-set in 120-100 win

Clippers, looking to rise in Pacific, induce Sun-set in 120-100 win
Clippers forwards Spencer Hawes, left, and Matt Barnes share a smile and slap hands during the second half of Sunday's win at Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The Clippers raised two Pacific Division banners in their practice facility this summer, a nod to recent progress amid a mostly dismal history.

They would prefer to hoist a more meaningful piece of fabric, of course, but a third consecutive division title might hold extra significance this season.


Golden State has the best record in the NBA. Sacramento is no longer a pushover. And Phoenix is seemingly never out of a game because of its bevy of small, dynamic guards and three-point shooters.

The Suns trailed the Clippers by 12 points early in the fourth quarter Sunday and before you could say "comeback," they were within two.

That's when the Clippers increased their level of chatter, emerging with a convincing 120-100 victory at US Airways Center in which they held the Suns to one field goal over the final 7 1/2 minutes.

Talking things out has been a theme throughout a four-game winning streak in which the Clippers have held their opponents to an average of 96 points per game.

"Our defense has been better because our communication is better," said forward Blake Griffin, who had 23 points. "The more we talk, the better we are. It's not just talk, like, 'I got your back, I got your back.' It's directing people and people just listening. They don't second-guess it, so it's trust."

The Clippers (30-14) were equally unafraid to compliment or critique one another Sunday, with the snippy exchanges equaling the high-fives. Both were warranted during a game in which the Clippers surrendered 41 points in the second quarter before shackling the Suns during a 15-0 run midway through the fourth quarter.

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was an unlikely savior from the free-throw line, making eight of 15 overall and seven of 12 after being intentionally fouled in the fourth quarter. He even banked in two.

"I called glass in my head," Jordan said dryly. "They were all straight, I just put a little more oomph on it."

Jordan made all five of his field-goal attempts, continuing a six-game tear in which he has made 38 of 43 shots (88.4%), and finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.

The latter number seemed like a misprint to Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek.

"The stats say he had four" blocks, Hornacek said. "That can't be right, it seemed like he had 14."

Chris Paul had 23 points and 12 assists for the Clippers, who have won all three of their games this season against the Suns (26-20). The Clippers are now 8-4 against the top eight teams in the Western Conference and appear to be far more cohesive than earlier in the season, though they still trail the Warriors by seven games in the division.

"Guys are telling each other the truth on the bench," Coach Doc Rivers said. "Sometimes, it goes well. Sometimes it doesn't. That's fine. There will be blowups and they're back together. That's what we need."

Said Griffin: "We see it as guys caring and there being a lot of passion, which we definitely have a lot of. I think it's a good thing."

Rivers said he viewed the game as the start of a 10-game trip because his team returned to Los Angeles late Sunday before playing the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on Monday night. Then comes an eight-game trip that starts Wednesday against Utah in Salt Lake City.

The Clippers realize the talk therapy that helped them against the Suns could become divisive under less desirable conditions. The trick is to not let that happen.

"It's not going to be like this for every game the rest of the season," Paul said. "I think the biggest test is going to be when it's not clicking like it is tonight to make sure we stay together."

Twitter: @latbbolch