LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin is nothing short of a lightning rod — for teammates, opposing players and referees. He also can play any kind of game required to keep the Los Angeles Clippers near the top of the Western Conference standings.
Griffin scored 22 of his 37 points in the first quarter and made 14 of 16 shots before fouling out, and the Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 112-105 on Monday night for their eighth straight victory.
“I didn’t even realize he had 22 in the first quarter until halftime,” point guard Chris Paul said. “I felt like the biggest dummy, because he probably should have gotten the ball even more than he did. I know he gets off to good starts and stuff, but tonight it was crazy.”
Things got testy with 5:28 remaining, as Griffin and P.J. Tucker began wrestling on the floor after they jockeyed for position in the paint on a missed 3-point shot by Matt Barnes and Griffin fell on top of Tucker.
The two had to be separated, and the game was delayed while referees Bennie Adams, Jason Phillips and Matt Boland examined the video monitor to sort it all out. Tucker was charged with a loose ball foul and then ejected, while Griffin stayed in the game — until he fouled out with 3:23 remaining.
“You just kind of assess the play as it happens,” Griffin said. “In the moment, I don’t want to put my team or myself in a bad situation. So you just have to weigh the pros and cons at that point. Just to do something stupid and get kicked out or suspended doesn’t help. We already have injuries and guys who are banged up, so we don’t need that.”
The four-time All-Star entered Monday having drawn a league-high 469 fouls, 40 more than Houston’s Dwight Howard.
“Blake comes in and he does his job. And they don’t like it,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Blake gets hit as much as anybody. I think we have all seen it, and it gets old. I know it’s very difficult for him, but I think he’s doing the right thing. He puts his arms up — because if he reacts, like some people say he should, then he gets thrown out, he gets suspended, and it hurts the team.”
Darren Collison scored 20 points and Paul added 17 points and 11 assists for the Pacific Division leaders, who were 55.1 percent from the field and improved to 23-1 when shooting at least 50 percent.
Goran Dragic had 23 points and five assists during a foul-plagued 33 minutes for the Suns, who slipped a half-game behind idle Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West and are 1½ behind Dallas. Phoenix hasn’t made the postseason since 2010 under coach Alvin Gentry, now a Clippers associate head coach.
“Give Phoenix credit. They’re playing for their lives right now and they need every win, so you knew they were not going away,” Rivers said. “At least that’s the way I felt on the bench.”
Gerald Green, who had a career-high 41 points for the Suns in last Thursday’s 128-122 win over Oklahoma City, finished with 16 points after averaging 23.4 over his previous 13 games. Miles Plumlee, playing his second game after missing the previous two because of a sprained right knee, had 12 points and nine rebounds as all five Suns starters scored in double figures.
Dragic came in averaging 20.5 points, third in the league among point guards behind Stephen Curry (23.5) and Kyrie Irving (21.5). But he picked up his third foul 2 minutes into the second quarter and wasn’t a factor until the fourth, when the Suns rallied from a 19-point deficit with 8:11 remaining and got it down to 109-105 on Dragic’s layup with 32.5 seconds to play.
But that was as close as they got, as Barnes made three of four free throws to close it out.
Los Angeles was leading 105-95 when Griffin picked up his sixth foul on a charge under the basket. Dragic made a pair of driving layups 28 seconds apart to slice the margin to 105-99 with 2:21 to go. But Paul responded with a 16-foot bank shot and two free throws for an eight-point cushion with 1:21 left.
“They got up early on us. We fell back and continued to play. It was just one of those situations where it was too little, too late,” Tucker said. “It happens to us a lot. Against the top teams in the league, you can’t get down by so much early. Even coming back and making it close at the end is not enough.
“We ran out of gas.”
NOTES: Clippers G Jamal Crawford was on the inactive list for the fourth time in five games because of a left calf strain. He tried to play through it during Saturday’s win over Atlanta, but spent only 9 1-2 minutes on the court and attempted two shots — both of which missed. “I don’t know when he’s coming back. I just don’t know,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think he looked good the other night, just running. I don’t get involved very often with that stuff, but he wasn’t running natural, so we’ll just wait until he’s back to playing 100 percent.” … The Clippers have scored at 100 or more points in 16 straight home games since their loss to the Suns. It’s their longest such streak since the 1983-84 season, their last one in San Diego.