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Their Runaway Victory Is an Inside Job
PHOENIX — Then there are the days when the run-and-stun stalls, where the Phoenix Suns look as if they're playing four on five, instead of the other way around.
Every team has a soft spot, and the Suns have one too — their defense.
It's a fairly large Achilles' heel, but being the league's highest-scoring team comes with a cost, sometimes a steep one.
The Suns were dominated on the inside, thoroughly, in their 122-97 Game 2 loss Wednesday to the Clippers.
The Clippers had 57 rebounds, the Suns a staggeringly low 26. The Clippers had 31 second-chance points, the Suns only six. The Clippers scored 58 points in the lane.
"It is size," Sun Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Obviously, to negate that and to not get killed, you have to have that second effort, which we did on Monday and didn't have tonight.
"We better be much more active the next game. I'll be very surprised if we're not."
D'Antoni sat glumly on the bench, hand under his chin, as the final minutes played out without a hint of tension. On the other side, Clipper guard Sam Cassell pumped his fist as L.A. extended its lead to 23 points.
The Suns, winners of four consecutive games before Wednesday, were understandably confident before Game 2.
"They can control their tempo, but they're not going to slow us down," D'Antoni said beforehand.
The Suns had been on a roll, averaging 122.8 points and shooting 55.2% in their last four games.
They knew it, too.
Game 1 against the Clippers came with 130 points and 54.7% shooting for the Suns, prompting D'Antoni to call it "as good as I've ever seen or been associated with."
Forward Shawn Marion, when asked if the Clippers could curb the Suns' offense, said, "They ain't going to slow it down."
Defense didn't matter. It was an afterthought, a postscript.
But the Suns' loss to the Clippers in Game 2 was strikingly similar to their Game 2 loss to the Lakers in the first round: The ball was pounded down low, and the Suns were simply pounded.
The Clipper guards also got into the act, Cuttino Mobley in particular, posting up the Suns' smaller perimeter players.
Mobley had 23 points on nine-for-16 shooting. Every Clipper starter made at least half his shots.
The Suns' score against the Lakers in Game 2 was more acceptable — 99-93, Lakers — but the result was the same, a loss that cost them home-court advantage.
The Clippers, for their part, said all the polite things, knowing their Staples Center hallway neighbors also won Game 2 in Phoenix.
Coach Mike Dunleavy acknowledged the Clippers' success in the post but sounded the first warning about the Suns' ability to turn the series back around in Game 3.
"This team, they have that ability to play at such a high level," he said. "If they get a hot hand
it's hard to throw water on that fire."
The Suns weren't exactly sizzling Wednesday, uncorking their second-worst home playoff loss in team history. They lost by 39 points to Utah in 1991.
The Clipper offense did what was necessary, and then some.
"Everybody was making plays, making shots," Sun forward Tim Thomas said. "Then when they weren't, they were getting second-chance points."