Chris Paul wanted the win and he got it by being the penultimate Chris Paul. When you've got Blake Griffin at your side, that's pretty much all it takes.
But this is preseason, still. The Clippers rested DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford after their own back-to-back the previous night. But Blake Griffin played the whole fourth quarter, and he and Chris Paul combined for 41 and 39 minutes respectively.
The Suns had a chance to take the lead with 26 seconds left, but Marcus Morris - who had just hit a three to take the lead a minute before - missed an open three and Chris Paul went down and charged
Bledsoe the rim for the score.
The Clippers won by three after Paul scored their last four points to close it out.
Paul and Griffin combined for 69 of the Clippers 108 points in 80 minutes of playing time.
For the Suns, Eric Bledsoe scored 27 points in 34 minutes, along with 2 assists, 2 steals and a rebound. Gerald Green had 23 points in only 16 minutes of play. Marcus Morris had 17 points and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes.
None of the other Suns played nearly as well. Dragic had 4 points and 4 assists in 25 minutes. Isaiah Thomas, after scoring a ton the night before, had just 4 points and 4 assists in 16 minutes of his own.
The game started with Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe going mano-a-mano, though Blake Griffin and Gerald Green were pretty flashy in their own right.
The Suns defensive scheme in this game was to go under the screen at the top of the key to prevent Chris Paul's drives into the teeth of the defense. Paul just stepped back and went 3-for-3 from three, scoring 14 points overall, in the first quarter alone.
Bledsoe matched Paul on the other end. The Clippers, too, went under the screen and Bled went 3-for-3 on threes, with 14 points overall.
Paul was matched up on Goran Dragic in the first quarter defensively and managed to keep Dragic quiet while Bledsoe and five other Suns scored 33 to lead by 5 at the end of the first (33-28).
The second unit stretched the lead to 8 before the Clippers brought back Paul and Griffin after 7 minutes. Green, Tucker and Thomas combined to go 7-for-9 in the second quarter, but the Clippers outscored the Suns 30-28 to cut the halftime lead to 3 (61-58).
Gerald Green finished the first half with 14 big points, and Eric Bledsoe had 16.
Alex Len made his first cameo of the year, providing good mobility on defense and two rebounds but otherwise favoring his injured hand on catches, and did not take a shot.
This second unit is going to be killer all season. Just when you think you survived the Suns first unit, the combo of Thomas, Green and Tucker will kill you on the second unit.
The Suns did not come out as sharp in the second half while Chris Paul continued carving up. He had a clean steal and breakaway on Dragic that set the tone and gave the Clippers their first lead since the first quarter.
Chris Paul then went all Chris Paul, hounding Markieff Morris all the way down the court till he got a steal, then hounding the Suns into another near-turnover on the nest possession.
The Suns played some defense of their own, but could not make many shots and fell behind. Goran Dragic just could not get untracked and Chris Paul kept getting "Paul calls".
For the record, the third quarter was really ugly. Neither team was sharp. Turnovers abounded.
Alex Len came back out in the second half with the starters when Plumlee picked up his fifth foul and gave some good minutes. He forced the Clippers to change their shot several times, but really isn't totally sure what the heck he's doing out there. Scratch that: he had no clue what he was doing, was going just on instinct.
The Suns offense was dead, though. They scored just 14 points (two field goals) against 10 turnovers until Gerald Green made a couple of shots to close out the third.
The Suns ended the third with a 1-point lead (80-79) because they played improved defense and made free throws (10) in between their miscues.
The fourth quarter got even uglier than the third. When P.J. Tucker clipped J.J. Redick 25 feet from the rim with .01 left no the shot clock, you knew it wasn't the Suns night. When Hedo followed that up with a 20-foot bank shot, the nail was in the coffin.
The Clippers kept Blake Griffin for the start of the 4th and brought Chris Paul back early. Probably to ensure they don't go 1-6 in preseason. The Clippers pulled out to a 5-point lead on the back of a few Griffin jumpers that make him really tough to guard. The two had combined for 21-of-36 from the field in 65 minutes by the 6 minute mark of the 4th. In a preseason game.
But then Dragic and Bledsoe rejoined the fray and the Suns began to score again.
The day after a thrilling overtime victory against the Lakers Phoenix is back in action against the other STAPLES Center resident for a preseason matchup on ESPN.
When: Wednesday October 22, 2014 7:30 PM local time (10:30 EST)
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
Watch/Listen: TV: ESPN Radio: KTAR 620AM/98.7FM
4/2/2014: Clippers 112, Suns 108
Phoenix led the Clippers by 17 points late in the third quarter before a colossal collapse sealed their fate. Los Angeles ended up outscoring the Suns 34-17 in the fourth quarter on their way to a 112-108 win. It was a costly loss for the Suns, coming with just seven games remaining in a playoff chase. Letting this one get away has to rank pretty high on the scale of missed opportunities as the Suns barely missed the postseason.
The Suns had eight players score in the game. Each of the eight was in double figures and all were between 10 and 16 points. Balance. Jared Dudley was a +19 for the Clippers. Just goes to illustrate that plus/minus results can be just as useless as well, Jared Dudley was last season. Dudley is no longer a Clipper, having been
banished traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Phoenix Suns: 4-1 (preseason)
Points per game: 104.8 Points allowed: 94.0
While the Suns have maintained consistency with Miles Plumlee, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic starting at their respective positions in all five preseason games, the forward spots have been platooned by a combination of Markieff and Marcus Morris, Anthony Tolliver and P.J. Tucker. These last two preseason games will provide coach Hornacek his last chances to tinker with the rotations.
After a lopsided blowout victory against the leftovers of the Spurs roster, which prompted an apology from Suns owner Robert Sarver, fans at the STAPLES Center got their money's worth last night. Isaiah Thomas nailed a buzzer-beating jump shot to tie the game at the end of regulation and the Suns pulled away in overtime for a 114-108 victory over the Lakers. Thomas had his best game of the preseason, scoring 26 points and converting on 12 of 13 free throws.
Still no Alex Len.
Los Angeles Clippers: 1-5 (preseason)
Points per game: 99.7 Points allowed: 109.8
Like the Suns, the Clippers played a game last night. Unlike the Suns, the Clippers got boat raced. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul rested for Los Angeles in a 125-107 loss to the Golden St. Warriors. Jared Cunningham led the Clippers with 23 points. New acquisition Spencer Hawes started alongside center DeAndre Jordan in the game.
While Jared Dudley is no longer a Clipper, Suns fans can delight in the opportunity to catch fan fave Hedo Turkolgu in action tonight.
It's the preseason, who knows? It appears these teams have taken a different approach to their preseason method.
The Suns seem to be using these practice games to evaluate different lineups and rotations. The team is very deep and the competition for minutes is very real.
The Clippers are mostly sleepwalking through these obligatory matches. They have returned their core and are counting on internal improvement and small tweaks to take the next step.
Who plays tonight and how much? Paul and Griffin both sat last night, so they should be rested. The national stage would seem like a good platform for them to make an appearance in this game. Phoenix went deep to their bench last night, so there shouldn't be a fatigue issue for them, either. Then again, it's preseason, so who knows what minute restrictions might be in place.
In continuation of a Bright Side tradition, we go through the trouble of ranking the players in the NBA at each position.
Last year, to much fanfare, our own Jacob Padilla broke down his letter grades and rankings of players at each of the positions in the NBA. This year, I'm going to do the same thing, but with two twists.
First, I am going to introduce a slight empirical element to this grading system. Instead of going entirely by the gut, I will base at least part of my grades on a composite ranking scale that takes into account a players ranking on four aggregate statistics from the 2013-14 season that all have slightly different emphases: Win Shares per 48, Real Plus/Minus, PER, and PoP48 (from BoxScoreGeeks.com). This hopefully adds a little objectivity to the analysis. (Note: because there are players who didn't play last year, the rankings cannot be entirely based upon this.)
Second, I am taking a cue from the great Bill Simmons, who invites commentary from the infamous Cousin Sal in his NBA rankings columns, and inviting commentary from my friend and Suns junkie Gottlieb. Whereas I rely on statistics to inform my grades, Gottlieb will provide gut check evaluations.
The grading system will remain roughly the same as last season:
S: Best in the Game (LeBron James)
A+: Second Best in the Game (Kevin Durant)
A: Top 5 Player
A-: Top 5 at the Position
B+: All-Star Caliber
B: Above Average Starters/Fringe All-Star Caliber
B-: Above Average Starters
C+: Average Starters
C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player
C-: Good Bench Player
D+: Average Bench Player
D: Fringe Rotation Player
D-: Fringe NBA Player
F: Soon to be Puerto Rican League All-Star!
Note: Order underneath each grade range is entirely arbitrary.
I start with the Center position (link takes you to the publicly viewable Google Sheets page for all position raw rankings), and will end with the Point Guard position. Here we go!
Nada. Zilch. While the center position is not as weak as the shooting guard position, it is really hard to justify any center in the NBA right now being a Top 5 player.
Noah is clearly the best center according to the metric stats used; he is the only player to appear in the Top 10 of all four statistics. Howard, Lopez and Drummond are all anchored by strong performances in PER. Drummond is hindered by a poor Real Plus/Minus, where he ranks 31st. Jordan performs strongly in WS/48 and PoP48.
Gottlieb's Gut Check
Okay, here is the shpiel: Dwight Howard is the most overrated player. I know what you're thinking, with his freakish athleticism, defensive prowess, and his double double averages, he's one of the most coveted big men in the league. Even with all of that, I would not pay him $21 million a year. His free throw shooting is abysmal and it's a flaw oh so many teams have been opportunistic to exploit over the years. He's a lane clogger, too, because he has so little range, which takes away opportunities for the likes of Ariza, Beverley and Harden. In the end, the coaching carousel he's been through and personal training from Kareem and Hakeem, it was never about the guidance, but always about Dwight. IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT DWIGHT!
DeMarcus Cousins (ranking 15); Nikola Pekovic ( ranking 13); Chris Bosh (ranking 21.5)
Boogie is a weird case. He ranks first overall in PER, but 28th overall in Real Plus Minus. I think most can agree that he is a notch above the three guys in the category below in terms of raw talent and production. Bosh played 80% of his minutes at the 5 last season, so is considered a center. He is bumped heavily because he is Top 15 in every stat but PoP48, where he is 49th. Pek's efficiency might decline a bit this season since he won't be playing with the floor stretching Love, but it will likely come with increased touches as he becomes more of a cornerstone of the offense.
While health is likely a big factor for all three of these guys, it seems fair to say that when healthy any of the three could be an All-NBA caliber player. The biggest problem for all three is that they are 29 years old, and the players above them are either younger, better, or both.
Gottlieb's Gut Check
Obviously if Dwight is the most overrated big in the league, the obvious choice for most underrated is The Polish Hammer. He stole Roy Hibbert's lunch money by putting up 31 points and pulling down 16 boards on a stingy Pacers defense to stave off elimination in the playoffs last year. Clearly the BSOTS community was a bit conflicted on whether he was worth 5 years/$60 million, but there can't be any doubt that he's a serviceable starting big that's a banger on the boards that can block shots and knock down a couple of short-range jumpers.
Robin Lopez (ranking 13.25); Anderson Varejao (ranking 14)
Lopez and Varejao fall below other players with slightly better scores, primarily because they both had better than average seasons that they likely won't be able to repeat.
Tiago Splitter (ranking 17.25); Tyson Chandler (ranking 17.5); Samuel Dalembert (ranking 24); Nikola Vucevic (ranking 25.5); Omer Asik (ranking 26.5); NeNe Hilario; Jonas Valanciunas (ranking 35.25); Henry Sims (ranking 38.5); Larry Sanders (ranking 41.25); Derrick Favors (ranking 31.75); Greg Monroe (ranking 30.75); Joel Embiid
Two players get a significant bump to make this group: Sims and Sanders. Sanders is fairly easily justified: he was recovering from injury all year, and the previous year he was arguably a Top 10 center. Sims is more difficult. Some would argue Sims probably benefited tremendously from the decent-player-bad-team effect last year with Philly. But take a moment to reflect, and something else comes out: in 27 games with Philly, Sims had double doubles against Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins), the Knicks (Tyson Chandler), and Chicago (Joakim Noah), and had 5 games of 18 points or more.
Gottlieb's Gut Check
Nikola Vucevic is due for a breakout. I got a chance to see this kid play at the Galen Center when he was playing for USC, and he dropped the kibosh on my beloved Arizona Wildcats. He has a great handle for a big and shows a variety of moves in his offensive toolbox. He quietly averaged a double double in his second year for Orlando. He's not very athletic, but with Orlando's recent moves, he probably doesn't need to be. I think the addition of Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon could stretch defense and make their front court a dynamic scoring threat. I like Nikola to have a breakthrough year.
Brandon Wright (ranking 8.25); Chris Andersen (ranking 7.25); Mason Plumlee (ranking 24); Timofey Mozgov (ranking 30.5); Kosta Koufos (ranking 33.5); Gorgui Dieng (ranking 34); Bismack Biyombo (ranking 38.5); Kevin Garnett (ranking 40.75); Spencer Hawes (ranking 39.75); Nerlens Noel; Roy Hibbert (ranking 42); Miles Plumlee (ranking 42.5); Enes Kanter (ranking 61.75)
By sheer statistical ranking, Wright and Andersen should be 2nd and 4th overall, respectively. Realistically, these guys are probably 6th men caliber players. A number of starters appear in this group, including Miles Plumlee, Roy Hibbert, and Enes Kanter. Roy Hibbert may revert back to his 2012-13 form without Lance Stephenson and Paul George taking so many offensive touches and with George Hill running more of the point, but I just don't see it. Kevin Garnett gets nudged into this group because of his Hall of Fame patina, but in reality he's a shell of his former self, and probably shouldn't be playing more than 15 minutes a night.
Cole Aldrich (ranking 17); Jeff Withey ranking 28.75); Kyle O'Quinn (ranking 30.5); Tyler Zeller (ranking 35); Ronny Turiaf (ranking 35.75); Jeff Ayres (ranking 44); Alexis Ajinca (ranking 44.75); Kelly Olynyk (ranking 47.75); Ian Mahinmi (ranking 47); Festus Ezeli; DeJuan Blair; Lucas Nogueira
By sheer ranking, Aldrich, Withey and O'Quinn should probably be in the fringe starter discussion, but realistically these guys at this point in their career are solid bench contributors. Surprisingly, Olynyk falls into this group, largely due to a poor PoP48 ranking. Also surprisingly, Ronny Turiaf appears here: after a truly terrible 2012-13, Turiaf had a bounce-back season, reflected particularly in the PoP48 and WS/48 stats. I expect Ezeli to rebound and land here, but he may get big minutes if Bogut cannot stay healthy.
Zaza Pachulia (ranking 48.25); Chuck Hayes (ranking 47.5); Jason Thompson (ranking 48.5); Chris Kaman (ranking 50.75); Steven Adams (ranking 51.25); Rudy Gobert (ranking 52.25); Marreese Speights (ranking 57.25); Greg Stiemsma (ranking 60.25); Joel Anthony (ranking 61.5); Jason Smith (ranking 59.75); Pero Antic (ranking 52.25); Clint Capela; Jusuf Nurkic; Emeka Okafor
There isn't much special to say about these guys. Perhaps the most surprising player on this list is Chris Kaman, who was paid almost $5 million dollars this offseason to take minute away from a player who scored much, much higher on this list (Mr. Fropez). This group is populated by a number of guys in their late 20s who are likely on their last NBA contracts.
Joel Freeland (ranking 51.75); Dexter Pittman (ranking 55.5); Dewayne Dedmon (ranking 59.25); Justin Hamilton (ranking 59.5); Aron Baynes (ranking 63.25); Robert Sacre (ranking 60.5); Andrea Bargnani (ranking 64.5); Bernard James (ranking 67.75); Meyers Leonard (ranking 68.25); Alex Len (ranking 76.25); Alex Kirk
Pittman, Baynes, Dedmon, Sacre, James and Kirk are all big bodies that can be kept around for relatively cheap and not perform horribly if circumstances call for them to get playing time. While Bargnani is kept around because of his large contract, I still think he would likely be a rotation player in the NBA due to his offensive skill-set. Len and Leonard are both relatively young first round picks who just have not lived up to expectations.
Nazr Mohammad (ranking 60.25); Jason Maxiell (ranking 68.75); Ryan Hollins (ranking 41.75); Vitor Faverani (ranking 70.5); Hasheem Thabeet (ranking 73.5); Mike Muscala ranking 74); Hamady N'Diaye (ranking 82.5)
Hamady N'Diaye gets a bump because of a relatively impressive showing at the FIBA World Championships. Thabeet gets a slight bump here because, despite abysmal showings in PER, WS/48 and PoP48, he grades out at a respectable 46th in Real Plus/Minus. Maxiell, Hollins and Mohammad are aged veterans who only have a roster spot because of what they bring in terms of bench leadership; Muscala only appeared in the later half of the season and did not impress; and Vitor Faverani has already been connected with rumors of a Boston waive.
Aaron Gray (ranking 73.25); Kendrick Perkins (ranking 76.25); JaVale McGee (ranking 77.5); Ongjen Kuzmic (ranking 78.75); Daniel Orton (ranking 68.75); Brendan Haywood
Kendrick Perkins is terrible, by every conceivable objective metric. No player who started more than a handful of games for a team scored anywhere near as poorly as Perkins. There is no wide dispersal pattern here, either: Perkins falls 72nd or worse in every, single, statistic. At least McGee and Haywood have major injuries to blame (though, to be fair, McGee is a laughably bad player even when healthy, though a crazy athlete), while Kuzmic and Gray can legitimately claim they weren't given many opportunities. Kendrick Perkins played 20 minutes a game, and started every game he appeared in. It is so bad that each of the last two years, his raw replacement (Hasheem Thabeet and Steven Adams) was so much better than him that the team actually produced better results when those guys were on the court...