3:30 PM ET, January 11, 2009
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES -- The Phoenix Suns had a surprisingly hard time with the Los Angeles Clippers before Grant Hill went to work down the stretch and Shaquille O'Neal capped another perfect game at the free-throw line.
Hill scored six of his 21 points in the final 5:04 against the undermanned Clippers, and Amare Stoudemire overcame early foul trouble to score 26 points as the Suns sent Los Angeles to its 11th straight loss with a 109-103 victory on Sunday.
• The Suns put six players in double figures, led by Amare Stoudemire's 26 points, to pick up the win and move to 10-4 in their last 14 games.
• Shaquille O'Neal had 15 points, but more surprisingly, he finished a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line, his fourth perfect free throw shooting game of the season.
• Eric Gordon, who had averaged 23.6 PPG in his previous seven games, was just 2-for-14 (including 0-for-7 from 3-point range) for 14 points.
-- ESPN research
O'Neal had 15 points and 10 rebounds, including a critical three-point play with 2:05 remaining.
"You just can't give Shaq too many dribbles. When he's got the deep catch in there and you give him a couple of dribbles, nobody in the world can stop that the guy," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said.
"And he's made like 12 free throws in a row, so it's not like it used to be, when you could play straight up and take a foul and know that you could get one, maybe two misses out of the deal. To his credit, it's a totally different deal with him now."
O'Neal, whose horrendous shooting from the foul line over the years gave berth to the "Hack-a-Shaq" defense, was 5-for-5 from the line Sunday after going 7-for-7 during his 25-point effort on Friday.
"I'm trying to get my name in the top five in scoring by the time I'm done, so I'm just trying to get as many easy points as I can," O'Neal said. "I was always a pretty good free-throw shooter in high school, but I tried to make it better rather than just staying with what I know. Whenever you switch up on something, bad luck will happen to you. Now I'm just shooting it the way I was taught to a long, long time ago."
The Suns drew eight offensive charges from the Clippers, who committed 25 fouls overall.
"You've got to give Steve Nash credit. He had six of them. He was giving a clinic out there," Hill said. "He looked very much like Bobby Hurley in 1992 just taking charges left and right. They were good calls. It shows a lot when your point guard -- your quarterback and leader out there -- is sacrificing his body like that. Those are momentum plays. Those of us who can't dunk anymore, we've got to make good plays by taking charges."
Jason Richardson had 21 points and Nash added 14 points and 12 assists for the Suns, who blew a 15-point lead before notching their third straight road win to move a season-best eight games over .500. They have won five of their last six overall, including a 106-98 victory over the Clippers on Jan. 2 at Phoenix.
"The guys competed for a full 48 minutes and we did a lot of good things, but we made some mistakes," Dunleavy said. "We were called for eight charges today. I certainly didn't agree with all of them, but most of them were right. We have to do a better job of reading those situations and avoiding those kind of opportunities."
Los Angeles was in trouble from the start with Zach Randolph, Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and rookie Mike Taylor sidelined because of injuries, and Ricky Davis completing his five-game suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy. But the Clippers managed to stay competitive against a completely healthy Suns squad coming off a 128-100 victory over Dallas on Friday.
"A team that loses a lot is always a hungry team, and they've lost a lot of games in the last couple of minutes -- including this one," O'Neal said. "Every team that plays against us is going to be playing way over their heads. We made some mistakes, but we just maintained our composure and got some key stops at the end of the game."
Dunleavy was ejected with 6 minutes left in the third, picking up quick technical fouls from referee Joe Forte for arguing a non-call. Dunleavy felt Eric Gordon was fouled by Hill on an attempted layup at the other end of the court, then was struck in the face by O'Neal as they battled for the loose ball.
Assistant coach Kim Hughes called the shots the rest of the way, and the Clippers opened the fourth quarter with a 16-5 run that turned a 13-point deficit into an 89-all tie. Steve Novak capped the rally with his second 3-pointer in a 1:24 span.
Thornton scored six straight Clippers points, including a 15-footer that gave them a 98-95 lead with 4:27 remaining. But the Suns closed it out with a 14-5 run as Hill made a dunk, a 3-pointer and two free throws.
Hill, the only two-time winner of the NBA's sportsmanship award, was called for a flagrant foul against Thornton with 9:49 left in the third quarter and Phoenix leading 65-55.
"I asked Forte, 'Ten years ago, that wouldn't have been a flagrant foul, would it?' And he said no. But if you go by the rule and how it's stated, I probably did do the wrong thing," Hill said.
"I told the ref I'm not strong enough to knock somebody down. But certainly when a guy's in the air, he doesn't have that strength or balance. I really enjoy competing against Al and I was just glad he wasn't hurt. It was a stupid play on my part. Nash told me I've got to clean it up because I'm playing too dirty."
The Clippers are 71-130 since losing to the Suns in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals. The Suns are 137-61 since then. ... O'Neal has won two league scoring titles and would have had a third, but lost out on the final day of the 1993-94 season when David Robinson scored 71 points for San Antonio against the Clippers at the L.A. Sports Arena. Six years later, O'Neal scored a career-high 61 against the Clippers. ... The Clippers have dropped their first six games in 2009. Their longest losing streak ever at the start of a calendar year was 18 games in 1989 under coach Don Casey, including an 0-14 log in January. They lost their first 17 games of 1999, but that season was delayed until Feb. 5 because of a lockout.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||39-86 (.453)||37-86 (.430)|
|3PM-3PA||6-21 (.286)||6-19 (.316)|
|FTM-FTA||25-28 (.893)||23-28 (.821)|
|Fast Break Points||6||10|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||17 (2/1)||25 (2/0)|