Blake Griffin sets tone, sets off PJ Tucker as Clippers hang on to beat Suns

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LOS ANGELES — Apparently the Phoenix Suns players didn’t read the scouting report on Blake Griffin and went by last year’s version — he has a jump shot now and if you give him space he will make you pay.

Phoenix’s effort was not the kind of defensive performance a team fighting for its playoff life can afford. Griffin had 22 points in the game’s first quarter on 8-of-9 shooting, and sure there were dunks — including a Mailman tribute dunk — but there also were 18-foot fadeaway jumpers and shots knocked down from the elbow. After the game Chris Paul admitted he should have given Griffin the ball more.

“If you let a guy tee-up that 12-foot shot, he’s going to make it all day,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after the game. “We were playing off the guy, trying to put an arm out. Not once did we ever get into the guy.”

Eventually the Suns did get into him — PJ Tucker really got into him and got ejected for trying to elbow Griffin in the head after the two got tangled up in the fourth quarter. But by that point it was too late — Griffin finished with 37 points on 14-of-16 shooting in one of the best offensive performances of his career.

And that still almost wasn’t enough against a scrappy Phoenix team.

The Clippers led by 25 in the third and had to hang on at the end for a 112-105 win over the Suns.

That is the Clippers eighth win in a row but they remain the four seed (in a virtual tie with three seed Houston) as every team not based in Oklahoma City remains hot at the top of the West.

For the Suns they fall half a game back of the Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. With that on the line it frustrated Hornacek his team didn’t play with more urgency early.

“It didn’t seem like we were ready to play,” he said. “We were soft. In the second half we got after it better defensively, but we need to put that kind of effort that we had in the late third quarter and through the fourth quarter. We need to do that more often.”

Both of these teams are in the top 10 in the league in pace but early on it is the Clippers doing a better job of pushing the tempo and punishing the Suns in transition (12 fast break points in first 10 minutes). That pace pushed the Clippers out to a 34-23 first quarter lead.

The Clippers pulled away in the second again as Griffin continued to make everything, including a couple 16-foot bank shots ala Tim Duncan.

“When shots are falling, honestly, just keep shooting,” Griffin said. “But at the same time we were all hitting shots. Guys were scoring, our offense was going. Just kind of one of those zones where you feel like everything you’re throwing up is going in.”

Pretty much everything did go in — the Clippers shot 61.5 percent in the first half. A 17-8 run in the third quarter had Los Angeles up 25. Darren Collison chipped in 20 and Danny Granger had his best and clearly most comfortable game as a Clipper with 14 off the bench.

But if you take your foot off the gas pedal against the Suns you pay. The Suns fought to get it down to 11 late in the third and hung around that margin for most of the fourth quarter. Then Griffin fouled out with 3:23 left and the Clippers up 10. The last two were offensive fouls on Griffin, who never really adjusted to a tightly called game.

Goran Dragic then had a couple twisting layups and the lead was down to six (he finished with a team high 23, seven Suns were in double digits in a balanced attack). Chris Paul said he and the Clippers offense froze up a little when Griffin left the game because they had relied on him so much.

But then it was the Clippers turn to be a little scrappy and hold on for the win.

“It was good for us to win a grind-out game like that,” CP3 said.

The Clippers will take the wins as they come now.

So will the Suns, frankly, but they need to get back to being the relentless Suns who played 48 hard minutes or they will be able to schedule their vacations for April this year.

PBT Extra: Three things to watch with Boston in wake of Hayward injury

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Gordon Hayward is going to have surgery on his ankle and leg, which should not be a surprise to anyone who saw the gruesome injury to his leg just 5:15 into his Celtics career. There is no timetable for his return yet, maybe he makes it back for the playoffs, but the Celtics are not going to rush him and he may well miss the entire season.

What next for Boston?

In this PBT Extra I cover the three things to watch for from Boston, which in the short term could mean the Kyrie Irving show. Longer term, not much changes.

Gordon Hayward addresses Celtics and fans from hospital bed (video)

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Gordon Hayward broke his leg early in his Celtics debut – a devastating injury. He’s preparing for surgery tonight, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

First – after a perfect introduction from Marcus Smart – Hayward addressed the Boston crowd from his hospital bed before tonight’s game against the Bucks.

Hayward:

What’s up everybody? Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has sent me your thoughts and prayers. I’m going to be alright. It’s hurting me that I can’t be there for the home opener. I want nothing more just to be with my teammates and walk out onto that floor tonight. But I’ll be supporting you guys from here and wishing you the best of luck. Kill it tonight. Thanks, guys.

At least this nice moment (and an outpouring of support) came out of such a gruesome injury.

And if Smart keeps setting up his teammates so well, maybe the Celtics’ offense will keep humming.

76ers coach Brett Brown: Joel Embiid’s minute restriction could quickly rise

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Joel Embiid‘s minute limit of below 20 bummed out everyone (especially Embiid).

But good news could be on the way.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers look like a borderline playoff team, Embiid’s health the biggest variable. There’s a direct correlation between his ability to stay on the court and Philadelphia’s postseason chances.

Plus, he’s just so darn fun to watch. The more he plays, the bigger victory it is for every viewer not rooting for the 76ers’ opponent that night.

Report: Bucks have offered second-round pick as enticement for Rashad Vaughn trade

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John Henson was on the trade block. Greg Monroe seems permanently affixed there.

Another player the Bucks apparently want to deal? Rashad Vaughn, who was the No. 17 pick in 2015.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Milwaukee has been working to trade several players to clear salary-cap space, including guard Rashad Vaughn and center John Henson, league sources said. The Bucks have been willing to attach a second-round pick in offers for Vaughn, league sources said.

It’s unclear whether the Bucks are still as motivated to move Vaughn. They slid under the luxury-tax line by stretching Spencer Hawes. One-time target Richard Jefferson already signed with the Nuggets. A roster vacancy and cap savings might not matter as much anymore to Milwaukee.

But Vaughn has struggled in two NBA seasons. The Bucks might be better off trying to develop someone else, even a D-League player, over the 21-year-old Vaugh.

Vaughn is due $1,889,040 this season. He faces a $2,901,565 team option for next season, which his team must decide on by Oct. 31. It seems unlikely that will be exercised.

This is what happens when you draft players for the wrong reason.