Clippers rob NAZ Suns of season-opening victory
NBA G League
PRESCOTT VALLEY — The Agua Caliente Clippers could very well be charged with highway robbery the way they beat the Northern Arizona Suns in the season opener on Saturday.
Throughout the entire game, the Suns dominated and with a nine-point lead with two minutes left in regulation, they should’ve closed out the game. However, the Suns missed enough of their free throws during the “foul game” process for the Clippers to make it a 119-118 game with five seconds left.
Forward Anthony Lawrence II (21 points, 13 rebounds), the Suns’ No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, then only hit one of his two free throws after getting on purposely fouled. With no time outs left, Clippers guard Derrick Walton Jr. scurried down the court and was fouled by Lawrence on a three-point attempt with 0.7 seconds remaining.
In the most calm and collected manner, Walton Jr. sunk all three of his free throws to give the Clippers a 121-120 lead, their first of the game. But that lead was all that mattered as the Suns goofed a game-winning alley-oop attempt, resulting in their first loss of the season.
“It’s a learning experience. Every day is a learning experience,” said Suns head coach Bret Burchard. “We’re not made by one game, we’re not broken by one game so it’s good to have a lot of things come up today that we can learn from and improve on.”
While it would have been great to tip off the season with a win, the Suns exhibited many bright spots, especially in the first half. Guard Jared Harper had it going right out of the gate as the Auburn product’s 14 first-quarter points helped the Suns jump out to an 11-0 lead.
Harper, who is on a two-way contract, was lights out the entire game, recording a team-high 34 points, eight assists and five rebounds. In the first half, he headlined the Suns’ 57.9% shooting from beyond the arc by splashing four of his six three-pointers, including one to end the half.
“I just feel like I always go out there and just try to make the right play,” Harper said. “If I come off a screen, and I’m able to see the basket and I’m able to get a three off, then I’ll look to do that. If [the defense] comes up, then I’ll try to create another advantage for my teammates to score or to find somebody else.”
As much as the Suns’ wondrous three-point shooting helped balloon their lead to as much as 26 points, Burchard also said he liked their intensity on defense. The Clippers only shot 14.3% from three and were outrebounded 30-23 by the end of the first half.
The Suns went into halftime with a sizable 69-55 lead but in the second half, the momentum slowly began to shift in favor of the Clippers. Agua Caliente forward James Palmer Jr. had a quiet 21 points in the first half and wound up finishing the game with a game-high 40 points to go with five rebounds and two assists.
Palmer Jr., along with some better team defense, helped the Clippers chip away at the lead and managed to cut it down to as much as one with 11 minutes to go. Despite only knocking down three three-pointers in the second half compared to 11 in the first, the Suns were timely with their shots, which helped preserve their lead on multiple occasions.
While the Suns did cool down as the game progressed, Burchard feels his team’s impressive shooting is sustainable for the rest of the season.
“Well hopefully we’re getting open, good looks. That’s kind of the idea of the offense, playing point five, move the ball, break the paint and integrate extra passes,” Burchard said. “I think we got good looks so I hope we make them … If we were making a lot of hard shots, I would say ‘no’ but I think we got open ones and I feel good about that.”
Northern Arizona (1-0) will remain at home for the next two games and will face Texas Legends (0-1) on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Findley Toyota Center.
Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @Valaaron_94. Email email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.