PHOENIX (AP)—When a team wins 60 games, not all of them can be beautiful blowouts.
The Clippers went the final 4:26 without a point after tying it at 91-91. The Suns built their newfound success on speed and high scoring, but they outscored the Clippers just 20-12 in the fourth quarter.
“The bottom line is that it’s 60 wins,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Any way you dice, look at it, it’s 60. We’re proud of that, and we’ve still got three more games to go.”
Amare Stoudemire had 24 points and 17 rebounds—nine of them on the offensive end—and sank 14-of-16 free throws.
Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson scored 20 points apiece for the Suns, who at 60-19 moved two games ahead of San Antonio for the best record in the NBA with three to play and clinched the homecourt edge over Miami should the two meet in the NBA Finals.
“The good thing is you always say the next one’s going to go in,” Jackson said. “You don’t ever think about the next one I’m going to miss.”
That score stood until Steve Nash’s two free throws with 15.2 seconds to go put Phoenix ahead 96-91, its biggest lead of the night.
Johnson acknowledged that the Suns haven’t been sharp lately, despite a three-game winning streak.
“These last few games we haven’t been ourselves,” he said. “Games that shouldn’t be tough, we’ve been making them tough, and putting a lot of pressure on our guys.”
But Marion said at least the Suns are winning.
“The thing that’s killing me is you all are expecting us to blow everybody out,” he said. “Man, we can’t blow everybody out. Regardless of what their record is, they are NBA players and you’ve got to respect them. Just because we ain’t winning by 20 doesn’t mean it’s not a good win.”
Nash had 14 points and 11 assists but shot only 6-for-17. Leandro Barbosa added 12 points, 10 in the first half.
“We played really hard and did a lot of good things out there, but the 20 offensive rebounds we gave up was the difference in the game,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said, “and some of our turnovers, they weren’t forced. We must have stepped out of bounds five times.”
After a timeout with 22.3 seconds left, Zeljko Rebraca put up an airball from the top of the key.
“I thought it was a bad shot,” Dunleavy said, “but sometimes you make bad decisions.”
The Suns grabbed the ball, and Nash was fouled for the clinching free throws. Stoudemire made two free throws with 8.2 seconds left for the final margin.
The Suns were without Richardson for the second game in a row because of a sprained left ankle, but D’Antoni expects him back for Saturday night’s game against Sacramento.
Down 85-82 after Simmons’ 22-footer with 8:29 to play, Phoenix went on a 7-0 spurt, with consecutive 3-pointers by Jim Jackson and Marion to make it 89-85. But the Clippers responded, and Kaman’s hook shot inside with 5:41 remaining tied it at 89-89.
Jackson’s two free throws put Phoenix ahead 91-89, then Kaman’s inside basket with 4:26 to go tied it at 91.
Los Angeles shot 6-for-18 in its 12-point fourth quarter. Phoenix made only 4-of-18 shots but going 8-for-12 at the foul line. The Clippers didn’t shoot a free throw in the fourth quarter.
The Suns are the fourth NBA team since 2000 to win 60 games in a season, a remarkable turnaround from a franchise that was 29-53 last season, a resurgence led by the acquisition of Nash and Richardson. If Phoenix wins its final three games, it will top the franchise record of 62 wins set by the 1992-93 squad that made it to the Finals.
Phoenix, the league’s highest-scoring team, managed just 44 points in the second half, the Clippers 34. … The Suns swept the two Los Angeles teams in the same season for the first time ever. …. Clippers center Chris Wilcox left with a sore lower right leg in the second quarter and did not return. … With the victory, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni reached .500 (95-95) in his NBA head coaching career. It was a long climb, because he was 14-36 with Denver in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.