PHOENIX — It might be time for the Phoenix Suns to prepare for another long postseason rumble, or at least settle in for a tougher fight.
The Clippers made their intentions known Wednesday night, routing the Suns, 122-97, in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at US Airways Center.
Propelled by strong defense and balanced offense (the Clippers had six players in double figures, including all five starters), they started fast, floored the accelerator in the middle and finished strong.
The team executed Coach Mike Dunleavy's defensive game plan much better than in Monday's 130-123 Game 1 loss, containing Phoenix point guard Steve Nash while slowing down the league's highest-scoring team.
The Clippers evened the best-of-seven series, 1-1, and gave the Suns a lot to consider before Game 3 on Friday at Staples Center.
The Suns overcame a 3-1 deficit in defeating the Lakers in the first round, and could have more heavy lifting ahead.
"We needed this game," point guard Sam Cassell. "We didn't want to go back to L.A. down two. We just got together and said, 'We're going to play harder, we're going to rebound . We're going to execute our offensive and defensive game plan.' That's how we had success today."
Power forward Elton Brand had an impressive encore to his 40-point performance in Game 1, scoring a game-high 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Cassell, who had 28 points in the opener, also delivered again, scoring 23 points with six assists.
Their teammates provided more help this time.
Swingman Cuttino Mobley rebounded from a one-for-six performance, scoring 23 and grabbing eight rebounds.
And despite foul trouble, center Chris Kaman had 14 points and 16 rebounds. He played a key role in the Clippers having a 57-26 rebounding advantage, including 19-5 on offensive rebounds.
In Game 1, the Clippers grabbed five more total rebounds than the Suns.
"The first game, we let 'em take advantage a little bit," Kaman said. "[Phoenix forward] Shawn Marion had  rebounds, and that shouldn't be like that. We came back and tried to go hard. We tried to get our guys in there and rebound, and we were able to do it."
The Suns didn't hit the mark as well from the field, dropping from 54.7% shooting to 45.6%. The falloff was even more significant on three-pointers: 44.4% to 34.6%.
When shots missed, the Clippers were often first to the ball.
"That's what we have to do," said forward Vladimir Radmanovic, who had 10 points and nine rebounds while playing well for Kaman.
"They missed their shots, and the only way for them to stay in the game was to get rebounds. We were all together tonight. Everyone did their jobs."
And the Clippers accomplished their No. 1 goal: getting the job done on defense. The Suns are 0-4 in the playoffs when they fail to score at least 100 points.
Nash had 14 points and eight assists in Game 2. He had 31 points and 12 assists in Game 1, and the Suns scored 33 fewer points, so that's improvement.
"Most definitely, because they didn't score 130," said swingman Quinton Ross, who guarded Nash and scored 11 points. "We just came out more focused to stop their transition game, and when they had looks, we just got out and contested shots."
Not surprisingly, Dunleavy was pleased.
"Our low-post game got kicked into gear, but the main thing was our defense," he said. "We did a much better job on coverages."
Brand and Cassell opened the game shooting well, and the Suns didn't, helping the Clippers sprint to a 20-6 lead. The Clippers went ahead by as many as 17, and took a 38-22 lead into the second. It was a team postseason record for points in a quarter.
They took a 65-51 halftime lead and weren't threatened.
So now the Suns return to Staples Center, where they defeated the Lakers in overtime of Game 6.
This time, however, they're facing the Clippers.
"We came here to steal one and we got it," Radmanovic said. "Now, we have to go try to win both on our home court. No letting up now."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times