Three days after ascending atop the Western Conference standings, the Clippers nearly stumbled against the team occupying the cellar.
The ball, and the lead, seemed to perpetually slip out of their grip facing Phoenix on Wednesday at Staples Center. The Clippers’ seven-point first-quarter lead became a three-point second-quarter deficit amid a hail of turnovers — a dozen by halftime.
To make matters worse, the trouble was coming against the Suns, the West’s last-place team.
Ultimately, the Clippers made up for a sloppy first half with a dominant third quarter and that was enough to avoid a puzzling defeat.
The Clippers outscored the Suns by 15 points in the quarter and eventually cruised to a 115-99 win that was the Clippers’ eighth in their last nine games and also their ninth consecutive at home.
“Other than that,” coach Doc Rivers said of the third quarter, “it wasn’t a great night for us except for winning the game. That’s what you have to do. You’re going to have nights like this. But when you win ’em, they’re forgivable.”
Forward Danilo Gallinari tied a career high with 28 points and grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds, and the Clippers were dominant as a whole on the boards with 56 rebounds, 22 more than Phoenix.
The Clippers are now 11-0 when grabbing 50 rebounds or more. Eighteen of the boards were on the offensive end and helped the Clippers score 19 second-chance points.
By the first quarter’s end, center Boban Marjanovic, starting for the first time since Nov. 8 because back spasms forced Marcin Gortat to sit out the game, had as many rebounds (nine) by himself as the entire Suns roster, as Phoenix shot nine for 27 in the first 12 minutes.
But any advantages gained by the Clippers were negated by their mistakes. One game after committing a franchise-low four turnovers in Sunday’s victory at Portland, the Clippers had four turnovers in the first six minutes in Wednesday’s first quarter. They finished with 21 turnovers.
“Obviously, not the start that we wanted,” forward Tobias Harris said. “But we made adjustments in the game.”
They showed in the third quarter by scoring 40 points, the most the team has scored in a third quarter since Dec. 30, 2016. After multiple Clippers had driven into the paint in the first half and thrown errant passes looking into traffic, they made “simple plays” in the third and fourth quarters, Harris said.
Harris had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Marjanovic had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell combined for 38 points off the bench for the Clippers, but for the second consecutive game their bench, which leads the league in scoring, was outscored.
“They’re one of the best teams in the league right now,” Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov said. “They’re a blue-collar team. Nothing fancy. It’s the city of Hollywood, but this team is not Hollywood. This is just blue collar.”
The Clippers travel Thursday to face Sacramento on a back to back that will mark their second nationally televised game this season.