This was supposed to be an easy one for the Clippers, but their 128-117 victory over an overwhelmed Phoenix Suns team made L.A. feel some angst toward the end of the game Friday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Clippers looked to be trouble-free when they built a 29-point lead and had 79 points at halftime. It was the most points the Clippers have scored in any half since April 14, 1984, when the San Diego Clippers scored a franchise-best 87 points in the first half.
They were unchallenged by the Suns well into the third quarter, apparently giving the Clippers a false sense of security against a Phoenix team now tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the NBA at 18-42.
The Clippers, who were playing without starting guard Avery Bradley (sports hernia) and starting forward Danilo Gallinari (bruised right hand), began to let up, allowing the Suns to get comfortable enough to pull to within 12 points late in the fourth when the outcome still wasn’t completely decided.
In the end, with six players scoring in double figures, the Clippers held steady to get the win behind Lou Williams’ 35 points and Tobias Harris’ 30 points and season-high 12 rebounds.
“At the end of the day, when you get a lead like that, you kind of get in a little comfort zone,” Harris said. “But for us to be where we want to get to, we can’t fall into that trap. We’ve got to stay on it every single time, every single night, every single minute out there. That’s something that we can learn from.”
From this point forward, the Clippers will mostly face formidable foes. Eighteen of their next 24 games are against opponents with winning records. Twelve of the games are against Western Conference teams the Clippers are trailing for a playoff spot.
They play the Denver Nuggets twice more, the first game Tuesday night in Denver.
The Clippers play the Houston Rockets twice more, the first time coming Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers play both the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers twice more, two teams L.A. is chasing in the West. The Clippers play the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves once each before the regular season ends.
All of these teams will present the Clippers a bigger test than the Suns did and all of them are jockeying for position in the tough West.
“This is what it’s about right now. It’s grind time and this is the time we really have to come together as a team,” Harris said.
“Obviously we’re playing against a lot of good teams. But I love this group that we have. I think we can compete with anybody. We know that. So at the end of the day, we’re trying to see how good we can get at the same time. I think that’s what’s really motivating everybody in this locker room.”