Coach John Wetzel of the Phoenix Suns has been in the National Basketball Assn. since he was drafted by the Lakers in 1966, but he can’t recall a game that shifted as dramatically as Wednesday night’s contest between the Clippers and the Suns at the Sports Arena.
The Suns, who were on the verge of being blown out in the first half after they fell behind by 21 points, came back to blow out the Clippers by 19 points, 121-102, before an announced crowd of 7,420.
“This is the biggest turnaround we’ve ever had,” Wetzel said. “I can’t ever recall being involved in a 40-point swing. We got after them in the second half. We came out with a little more drive.”
Forward Eddie Johnson, who has struggled this season after being traded from the Sacramento Kings, destroyed the Clippers.
Johnson scored a career-high 43 points, 33 in the second half as the Suns handed the Clippers their third-straight loss. He made 14-of-19 shots in the second half as Phoenix outscored Los Angeles, 75-40.
Johnson, who had just 10 points in the first half, scored 14 points in the third quarter and 19 in the final period. He hit two consecutive three-point shots at the end of the game.
Johnson made 18 of 27 shots from the floor, including 2-of-3 three-point shots. He also had 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
“Eddie Johnson gave us a big lift,” Wetzel said. “He got the hot hand in the second half. It was great to see him do that.”
Johnson got off to a poor start due to injuries this season after the Suns acquired him from Sacramento in exchange for Ed Pinckney and a second-round pick last June. He missed the entire exhibition schedule with a sprained knuckle on his left hand and he sat out nine regular season games with a calf injury. He has played 10 games since coming off the injured list on Dec. 11.
“One game doesn’t mean that Eddie Johnson is back,” Johnson said. “My goal is to be consistent. I’ve concentrated on defense this season, but tonight I decided to concentrate on what got me to the NBA and shoot the basketball.
“I haven’t shot the ball well at all this year and I’m excited that I shot as well as I did tonight. The guys just kept getting me the ball and I didn’t feel like I could miss.
“I’ve been around the NBA for a long time and turnaround like that happen in an 82-game schedule.”
Said Clipper Coach Gene Shue: “Eddie Johnson played a fantastic game tonight. But our defense absolutely broke down in the second half.
“We played a fantastic first half. But just as well as we played in the first half, we played just as poorly in the second half.
“I was worried at halftime, I guess a coach is always worried, because I felt our outside shooting game couldn’t continue. When our shooting fell apart it was a rout.
“Quite honestly, I don’t think there was anything we could do to stop the Suns.”
The Clippers, who scored a season-high 62 points in the first half, were stunned by their total collapse in the second half.
“It happened so quickly. They turned read hot and we turned cold,” said forward Michael Cage, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers. “Eddie Johnson was incredible.”
Said guard Larry Drew, who led the Clippers with a season high 27 points and had 12 assists: “It was a combination of things. I’ve been in games like this before where one team is down by 20 points at halftime and comes back to win. I think they started to get aggressive on defense.”
The Clippers did everything right in the first half. However they did little right in the second half, scoring just 15 points in the fourth quarter.
The Suns blitzed the Clippers 38-17 in the span of 11:05 to take the lead for the first time since early in the game at 92-91 with 8:29 left on a jumper by Walter Davis.
Larry Nance, who scored a season-high 39 points in the Suns’ 117-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Monday night, had 19 points against the Clippers, 14 in the second half. He also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
Center James Edwards added 15 points for Phoenix (10-15) and Davis came off the bench to add 13 points. He also had 7 assists.
Forward Reggie Williams, who hit his first eight shots for the Clippers, wound up with 20 points. Williams cooled off after his hot start, making 10-of-16 shots from the floor
Guard Quintin Dailey came off the bench to score 16 points in 26 minutes for Los Angeles (8-16).
The Clippers, who have been struggled lately, executed their offense to perfection in the first half against the Suns, scoring a season-high 62 points.
They made their first eight shots in the second period and led by as many as 21 before Phoenix rallied to cut the deficit to 16 (62-46) at halftime. The Clippers shot 55.1% in the first half, hitting 27-of-49 shots.
Williams, who made his first seven shots, led the Clippers with 14 points in the first half. Drew also had 14 points, 12 in the first quarter.
Benjamin, who had missed three straight practices because of the flu and a bad knee, was on the bench at the start of the game. He was replaced by Earl Cureton.
The Clippers, however, seemed to flow more smoothly on offense without Benjamin as Cureton scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes in the first two periods.
The Suns, who were coming off a 117-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Monday night, looked out of sync in the first half.
Nance, who had 39 points against the Sixers, was held to just five points in the first half. He made only 2-of-11 shots from the floor in the first half.
The Clippers open a 7-game, 13-day trip against Eastern Conference teams Friday in New York with a game against the Knicks. Forward Joe Wolf, who has been out since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Dec. 11, is expected to make the trip. Injured Clipper guard Norm Nixon attended his first game since he suffered a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon last month.