Squirming on the Los Angeles Clippers' bench for the game's final 2 minutes, 52 seconds while the visiting Phoenix Suns sliced a 10-point deficit to one was a gut-wrenching experience for rookie Blake Griffin, who wasn't able to exhale until Eric Gordon made a game-saving steal in the final minute.
Griffin had 28 points and 12 rebounds for his 18th straight double-double before fouling out for the second time this season, and the Clippers nearly blew an 18-point advantage before beating Phoenix, 108-103, yesterday to end a streak of nine straight losses to the Suns.
"It was tough, but my teammates stepped up down the stretch," Griffin said. "It says a lot. I don't know how this kind of game would have gone if it was Game 3 or 4 or 5 [in the playoffs]. But now that we're more comfortable with each other, guys know what to do."
The victory was the Clippers' first against their Pacific Division rival since Jan. 15, 2008, and only their fourth in 19 meetings since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals at Phoenix.
Gordon scored 24 points and Baron Davis added 15 points and nine assists to complement Griffin's 24th double-double of the season.
Newly acquired Mickael Pietrus scored a season-high 25 points for Phoenix. Steve Nash finished with 21 points and 15 assists, and Grant Hill had 19 points and seven rebounds while guarding Griffin, and even got under his skin on more than one occasion.
After trailing by 18 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half, the Suns narrowed the gap to 64-58 on Nash's three-pointer with 8:48 left in the third quarter. They then scored the final seven points of the period to close within one, and Pietrus tied the score at 85 on a three-pointer with 7:54 left.
"We thought he would be able to play for us like that," coach Alvin Gentry said of Pietrus. "He's an excellent shooter. But more than anything, I liked his toughness on the defensive end."
The Clippers responded with a 11-2 run capped by Griffin's three-point play and pulled ahead 96-87 with 5:55 to play. But the Suns narrowed the gap to 104-103 on a pair of driving layups by Nash, a dunk by Pietrus and a trey by Pietrus with 22.5 seconds to go. But Gordon stole the ball from Pietrus, leading to Al-Farouq Aminu's clinching fast-break dunk with 4.6 seconds left.
Griffin, who leads the league with 71 dunks, made one of his best midway through the first quarter. He drove the left baseline, elevated above the rim and reached as far back as he could with his right hand to catch Davis' lob pass before throwing it down over Suns newly acquired backup center Marcin Gortat. It was his only dunk of the game.
"I wasn't sure if it was going to clear Gortat, but once it did, I just kind of watched it and the play just developed," Griffin said. "It was actually a very good pass for where Baron was at and where Gortat was at."
In other games:
* At Cleveland, Michael Beasley scored on a driving layup with 5.9 seconds left to give Minnesota a 98-97 victory over the Cavaliers and snap the Timberwolves' losing streak at seven.
Beasley, who had 28 points, scored after Antawn Jamison's basket with 10.6 seconds left gave Cleveland the lead. After Minnesota called a timeout, Beasley got the ball at the top of the key, drove past Jamison and banked in the winning basket. Cleveland then called a timeout and Jamison's off-balance runner hit the rim twice and bounced off as Kevin Love grabbed the rebound.
Luke Ridnour scored 23 points to help Minnesota improve to 7-24 and drop the Cavs to 8-22. Love added 16, including 14 in the fourth quarter, and had 18 rebounds for his NBA-leading 26th double-double.
* At Auburn Hills, Mich., Carlos Boozer's 31 points and 11 rebounds led the Chicago Bulls to a 95-92 overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons.
* Minnesota forward Kevin Love brushed off LeBron James' recent comments that the NBA would be better off if it eliminated teams so more stars could play together. James had mentioned Love as an example of one player he wanted to see playing on a team other than the Timberwolves, who are 7-24 after their win at Cleveland last niught.
"Those are interesting comments," Love said. "I saw what he said and it is not like that he is the only one that thought of that before or thought of that lately. You hear rumblings of contraction. I just figure that when the time comes with the CBA [collective bargaining agreement], the owners and players and everybody involved will make their decision. I didn't really think much of it."
Love admitted it's exciting to watch teams that have more than one star player.
"I don't see it happening, but it was fun when you used to watch certain teams that had certain guys, three or four superstar guys on a team," he said "That kind of stuff was cool. I understand what he is saying, but you never know until all the negotiations."