Oh, what could have been. Again.
For the second straight game, the Suns blow a golden opportunity to tighten their grasp on one of the final playoffs spots in the Western Conference.
With Memphis losing at Minnesota and Dallas idle, the Suns momentarily enjoyed the view from seventh place; and with a 91-74 lead late in the the third quarter, it appeared they would stay there awhile.
Unfortunately, it was only temporary.
The Clippers, who went 13-2 in March, outscored the Suns 34-17 in the fourth quarter on their way to a 112-108 victory, stunning the 16,091 at US Airways Center.
“If you want to be a playoff team, we couldn’t allow that to happen,” said Goran Dragic of his team losing a 17-point advantage, the largest blown lead of the season.
Darren Collison and Blake Griffin each scored 23, while Chris Paul added 20 and a game-high nine assists. It was Paul and his fourth 3 of the game, a 32-footer just before the shot clock expired, that gave the Clippers the lead for good, 108-106 with 1:48 to play.
“It says a lot about our team,” he said of the comeback, which tied their largest come-from-behind win of the season. “It’s been like that all season. We never give up. We keep fighting.”
Head coach Doc Rivers, looking ahead to Thursday’s home game against Dallas, was prepared to raise the white flag after the Suns went on a 22-5 third quarter run.
“Honestly, down 17,” he said, “I was thinking if we didn’t cut into it I was just going to keep (the second unit) out on the floor, and then they cut into the lead so quickly. It was great.”
The Clippers win clinched the Pacific Division for the second straight season.
The Suns loss dropped them to ninth place.
“It hurts. I can’t put it any other way,” said PJ Tucker, who recorded his 11th double-double of the season (10 points, 11 rebounds) and was one of eight players in double figures. “This one hurts because I felt like we had control of the game. We had a chance to put a foot down on their throat and we didn’t.”
The eight players in double figures was a season-best, topping the seven players in double figures in a loss at the Clippers on March 10.
Channing Frye had missed his last 10 attempts from 3 before hitting back-to-back 3s in the third quarter. He finished with four 3s, giving him 17 games this season with four or more three-point makes.
Marcus Morris had 14 points, Gerald Green 12 as the Suns, shooting a blistering 70.6 percent (12-of-17), outscored the Clippers 37-30 in the second quarter. Morris scored the team’s first 10 points in the quarter, while Green scored all of his points in a three-minute, 17-second stretch late.
The Suns scored 16 points in the game’s first five-and-a-half minutes, surpassing their first quarter point total (15) three nights ago against the Lakers. Miles Plumlee was the star early with six points and five rebounds to help give the Suns a 16-10 lead, their largest advantage of the half.
The Suns fall to 6-1, losing for the first time this season, in their first game following a double digit loss.
The Suns, first in the league with 18.8 fast break points per game, were held to eight fast break points, two in the second half.
Foul trouble limited Bledsoe to seven first half minutes. He picked up his third foul on a charge after he passed the ball driving to the basket only 81 seconds into the second quarter. He then picked up a technical foul for slamming the courtside signage padding with his right hand, the one that’s been bothering him and he’s playing with wrapped.
Matt Barnes, who lit up the Suns for 28 points on his last visit, scored 11 first quarter points, hitting four-of-seven field goals. His last basket, a dunk at 1:10, gave the Clippers a 26-19 lead, their largest advantage of the half.
STAT OF THE GAME
In the fourth quarter, the Suns turned it over five times and missed 13-of-19 shots. The Clippers, meanwhile, scored 11 points off the Suns’ mistakes and made 12-of-20 shots, including four-of-seven from 3.
HE SAID IT
“We can’t worry about other teams,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “It was a home game for us and we had a lead. We told the guys again, it’s like a broken record we tell them all the time, we can’t have two to three minute loll against these top teams.”
Markieff Morris, according to Elias Sports Bureau, is only the fifth different player in Suns’ history to score at least 1000 points (1019) off the bench in a season, joining Leandro Barbosa (2006-07 and 2007-08), Rodney Rogers (1999-2000), Dan Majerle (1991-92) and Eddie Johnson (1988-89).
With the Wizards clinching their first playoff spot since 2008, the Suns add Washington’s 2014 first round draft pick to complete the Oct 25 trade of Marcin Gortat.
The Suns head out on the road for a one-game trip to Portland on April 4. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. The Suns hold a 2-1 series edge with both victories coming at home, including the most recent matchup when the Suns snapped the Blazers’ 11-game winning streak, 120-106 on Nov. 27. In that game, the Suns recorded season-highs for points scored and field goal percentage (51.9) as well as largest margin of victory and comeback, overcoming a 16-potint deficit in the first half.