The Phoenix Suns are not known for being a physical team, and it’s even laughable seeing “Phoenix Suns” and “rough” in the same sentence.
But against the Clippers on Thursday night, the Suns flexed their muscles and took down the Clips, 93-90, to keep their playoff hopes alive and, at the same time, put a huge dent on the Clippers’ Pacific Division title hopes.
Phoenix made it a point to stop the Clippers’ aerial assault, which meant the Suns targeted Blake Griffin. On two separate occasions, Jared Dudley and Robin Lopez roughed up Griffin in an attempt to ground his high-flying game. Dudley even got in Griffin’s face to try to intimidate the Clippers star. Griffin finished with 16 points (four points below his season average) and shot 7-for-16 from the field.
Dudley’s tough-guy antics was all for show, but Lopez actually acted on the whole tough guy image when he pulled down Griffin on a breakaway and nearly injured him by grabbing him by his neck. A flagrant foul was called on Lopez and it got him tossed from the game. Watch the Lopez takedown:
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro called Lopez’s hard foul “dirty.”
“He is trying to take him down,” Del Negro told reporters after the game. ”The league has got to do something to protect this kid. We can only get so many technical fouls. We can only do so many things and guys are taking shots at him. It is getting bad. The kid is in pain right now.”
Lopez defended his play and insisted he was going for the ball. ”He got by me and I was just trying to go for the ball and he got a bit farther and I tried to go for his arms,” he said. “It was what it was. It is my job to protect the rim. I tried to go for his arms.
”People have kind of called Phoenix soft in the past. Tonight I think we showed we can do a good job of being the aggressor, especially near the end.”
The physical play lasted all the way to the final seconds as Channing Frye got tangled with Griffin going for a rebound after Mo Williams missed a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the fourth quarter. Griffin was called for the foul, and Frye knocked down two free throws to secure the win for Phoenix. Griffin had a chance to redeem himself in the final moments, but his desperation 3-pointer grazed the front of the rim.
The Clippers, down a game to the Lakers in the loss column, has three games remaining: New Orleans at home, and road games against Atlanta and New York. The Lakers close with the Spurs, Oklahoma City and Sacramento. The Lakers also hold the tiebreaker over the Clippers.