LOS ANGELES (AP) - Squirming on the Clippers' bench for the final 2:52 while the 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 on Sunday 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. 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 rivals 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 on ``Boxing Day,' which is a national holiday in his native Canada. Grant Hill had 19 points and seven rebounds while guarding Griffin, and even got under his skin on more than one occasion.
``Grant's unbelievable. He just battles and battles,' Nash said. ``He's so important to our team because he guards the other team's best player every night, whether it's a 2, 3 or 4. I don't know where we'd be without him. He did a phenomenal job today.'
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 3-pointer with 8:48 left in the third quarter. They scored the final seven points of the period to close within one, and Pietrus tied it at 85 on a 3-pointer with 7:54 remaining.
``We thought he would be able to play for us like that,' coach Alvin Gentry said. ``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. Pietrus, who committed a flagrant foul against rookie Al-Farouq Aminu during the run, stuck out his knee in an attempt to stop Griffin on his drive to the hoop.
The Suns narrowed the gap to 104-103 on a pair of driving layups by Nash, a dunk by Pietrus and a 3-pointer by Pietrus with 22.5 seconds to go. But Gordon stole the ball from Pietrus, leading to Aminu's clinching fast-break dunk with 4.6 seconds left.
Griffin, who leads the league with 71 dunks, made one of his best - in terms of degree of difficulty - 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.'
The Clippers, playing before their second sellout of the season at Staples Center, jumped out to a 31-16 lead. Nash missed all five shots in the first quarter and started out 0 for 7 before ending the drought with a four-point play 1:21 before halftime. Two-time MVP was fouled by Griffin on a 26-footer and converted the free throw.
``We came out lethargic in the first half and dug ourselves a hole,' Nash said. ``I had a really sore back today and I just wasn't capable, so I struggled a little bit. I had some good looks, but I just couldn't make them and it cost my team early. I tried to contribute the best I could and not give in. But obviously in the first half, I wasn't very good.'
Griffin committed another foul behind the 3-point line with 4:04 left in third, this one against Jared Dudley, who made two free throws to trim the lead to 78-71.
Vince Carter missed his fourth straight game since the Suns acquired him Dec. 18 with Gortat and Pietrus in a six-player trade with Orlando. The eight-time All-Star, who turns 34 on Jan. 26, hasn't played since Dec. 14 because of a sore left knee.
NOTES: Griffin also fouled out of a double-overtime loss at Utah Nov. 6. ... The victory helped the Clippers avert what would have been the franchise's 29th double-digit losing streak against one team, including a 12-game drought against the Suns from Oct. 31, 1997, through Nov. 25, 2000. ... The Suns began a four-game stretch against teams that entered Sunday with a combined 34-81 record, after facing four teams that were a combined 92-28.
The Associated Press News Service
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