When the rim seems the size of a hula hoop, the way it was Monday night when the Clippers thrashed the Memphis Grizzlies, everything looks smooth. Because when the ball is going in, the defensive rotations look cleaner, the passes are sharper, the movement looks easier and the game just feels a lot easier.
Nights like that in the NBA, even for the contenders, are usually a mirage.
Most nights are like the one the Clippers had Wednesday night in Phoenix, a grind against a subpar team in a relatively sleepy arena, a night where the energy the Clippers would play with would have to be generated internally.
The Clippers found it on Wednesday in ways that were probably more encouraging than the win against the Grizzlies, turning in a well-rounded performance to beat Phoenix 102-92.
The team’s new acquisitions, guard Reggie Jackson and forward Marcus Morris, made big plays, stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George did enough and the rest of the Clippers all mattered in a game that required fight into the final minute.
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, the Clippers defense locked down Phoenix down, holding the Suns to just 37 points combined in the second and third quarters. Behind their defense, the Clippers built themselves a double-digit lead heading into the fourth.
The Suns, though, were never out of it and crawled within a couple of possessions in the fourth, but the Clippers got points and stops when they needed them.
Leonard led the Clippers with 24 points, making all nine of his free throws. Morris scored 18 and Jackson added 10 in 16 minutes.
Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 25 points, doing most of the damage while the Clippers held All-Star Devin Booker to only 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting from the field.