PHOENIX — Well, the issues in the first quarter have been solved, if at least for one game.
Now, a new issue: The third quarter.
With a 12-point lead three minutes into the second half, the Suns suddenly went cold, missing nine of 14 shots. Even worse, they got sloppy with the basketball, turning it over seven times.
The Clippers, meanwhile, didn’t miss, in particular Matt Barnes.
The one-time Suns player was a perfect seven-of-seven from the field, including hitting four threes. He scored 18 points. Blake Griffin added 12 on six-of-eight shooting. The two combined for 30 of their team’s 37 points as the Clippers outscored the Suns by 19 in the third quarter.
“I thought we played pretty good defense for three of the quarters, just one quarter killed us,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said of the Clippers 15-of-20 shooting display.
The Suns, despite a late rally, lost 104-96.
Barnes finished with a game-high and season-high 28 points to lead the Clippers to their fifth straight win.
PJ Tucker paced the Suns with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Gerald Green finished with 17, Goran Dragic 14 and Marcus Morris 12.
The loss ended a two-game winning streak and dropped the Suns into eighth place — a half game back of Dallas but only a half game ahead of Memphis — in the Western Conference.
Tucker recorded his eighth double-double of the season with a season-high-tying 18 points.
Green extended his career-long streak of consecutive games scoring at least 10 points to 12 games.
Marcus Morris scored seven points during a 16-2 run spanning the first and second quarters to put the Suns up 30-24 with 10:15 remaining in the first half.
Dragic had seven points, two assists and one steal during a 13-5 run to end the second quarter and give the Suns a 55-44 halftime lead.
After falling behind by 15, the Suns scored 11 unanswered points to pull to within four, 90-86 with 6:31 remaining in the game. They would get as close as three (97-94) but then missed three-of-four shots plus turned it over twice in the final two minutes.
The Suns turned it over 18 times, including 10 times in the second half.
The Suns allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent for the fifth time in six games. The Clippers shot 51.3 percent, including 57.9 percent in the second half.
The Suns may have won the battle of the boards (46-40), but they had no answer for DeAndre Jordan inside. He grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds, two shy of a Suns’ opponent season-high.
After re-taking the lead, 69-68, the Suns missed five of seven shots and turned it over three times as they got outscored 13-4 the final 4:43 of the third quarter.
STAT OF THE GAME:
The Clippers improved to 20-1 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field, while the Suns are now 4-22 when their opponent posts a higher shooting percentage.
HE SAID IT:
“It’s starting to be the story of our season. Just giving games away. Games that we should easily win,” Tucker said. “You can’t be up 11 at half and then be down (eight) at the end of the third quarter. It just can’t happen. If we want to win in this leauge, if we want to be a playoff team, we can’t let that happen.”
Leandro Barobosa suffered a broken left hand when he fell backwards taking a Chris Paul charge at the end of the first quarter. He played into the second quarter before exiting at 6:10.
Alex Len, a DNP-Coach’s Decision in three of the past four games, made his first NBA start and had six points and six rebounds in 19 minutes. He replaced Miles Plumlee who missed his first game of the season because of a right knee sprain.
The Suns finish the four-game homestand with a visit from Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City on Thursday, March 6. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. MST with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The Suns have lost 11 straight to the Thunder, including once earlier this season, 103-96 at Chesapeake Energy Arena on November 3. Eric Bledsoe’s 26 points and career-high 14 assists were not enough as Kevin Durant scored a game-high 33, including 10 in the fourth quarter when the Thunder outscored the Suns, 36-26.