The Clippers home opener on Sunday had all of the makings for a momentous night.
They entered the evening on a two-game winning streak, had newcomer John Wall making his home debut, had superstar Kawhi Leonard returning to a sold out Crypto.com Arena for his first meaningful home game in 16 months, and had a chance to strike the first blow to the rival Phoenix Suns in what will surely be an important head-to-head meeting down the road.
But the Suns seized all of that momentum in the opening minutes, scoring the first 11 points in the game, to earn a 112-95 wire-to-wire victory over the Clippers.
“I think our energy, pace, and we got off to a good start,” said Suns point guard Chris Paul, who became just the third player in NBA history to record 11,000 career assists. “[Devin Booker] sort of had that look. You could see it, his energy.”
The Suns (2-1) led by as many as 18 points in the opening quarter, including Devin Booker scoring 14 of his game-high 35 points in the frame. It was a stranglehold on the game that they would never relinquish.
“We didn’t match their physicality early on, their pace, which they played with,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “That was the start, so you can’t start a game like that.”
For the Clippers, who won in Sacramento a night earlier, the sluggish start was too much to overcome. They missed 11 of their first 12 3-pointers, with the only make coming on a 35-foot heave by Nicolas Batum at the first quarter buzzer. The Suns had 11 more shot attempts, six more rebounds, and 13 more assists.
There were several moments throughout the night that it felt as though the Clippers (2-1) were going to scrap their way back into it. Leonard, who entered the game for the first time with just under 7 minutes remaining in the second quarter, barrelled his way through Suns forward Cameron Johnson on his first touch for a layup, drew a foul, and converted the ensuing free throw.
The crowd, so anxiously awaiting Leonard’s regular-season home debut, erupted as the free throw trimmed the Suns lead to 16, but a turnover on the next possession led to a Torrey Craig 3-pointer, snuffing the run.
And so it went.
For every Wall dash to the rim, including one in which he toppled Craig with a gorgeous dribble move around his back, there 2-3 defensive lapses or missed opportunities. .
“We are still working through stuff,” said George, who scored 16 points with seven rebounds after a brilliant 40-point effort against the Kings Saturday. “We’re still working through playing with small lineups. We’re still working through chemistry and continuity, personnel on the floor. There’s a lot of stuff we’re still working through, but we’ll get through it. We’re only three games in.”
MORRIS FEELING IT EARLY
Clippers forward Marcus Morris led the team with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting. It was his first 20-point game of the season, but a continuation of an exceptional start shooting the basketball.
Through three games Morris has converted 63.3 percent of his field goal attempts, including going 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) from 3-point range.
“I’m the type of player who needs to find his niche, figure out how I can help the team, whether that’s defending, making 3s, whatever it is, I just try to do my job,” Morris said.
Lue acknowledged that point guard Reggie Jackson is dealing with a groin injury that has limited his time on the floor. Jackson started, but went 0-for-5 from the floor with just two assists in 25 minutes… Paul had 11 assists and two turnovers. He is now third all-time in assists behind Hall of Famers John Stockton and Jason Kidd… The Clippers had 43 total rebounds, their lowest output of the young season so far. Since the start of 2021-22, they are 20-25 when they grab 43 or fewer boards… Jason Preston played the final 2:53, which marked his first official NBA minutes after missing his entire 2021-22 season due to injury… The Clippers travel to Oklahoma City for a two-game series Tuesday and Thursday.