The Phoenix Suns have relinquished their title as the NBA's softest team.
Even though it wasn't pretty the Suns got the ugly, physical win over the playoff-bound Clippers 93-90 Thursday night.
With 6:13 to go in the fourth, emotions were running high when Robin Lopez fouled Blake Griffin hard as he was about to dunk at the end of a fast break. Lopez went for the ball at first, but ended up catching Griffin on the head and around the neck, resulting in a flagrant-two and an ejection.
"It's on a fast break," Lopez said. "He's not a very good free-throw shooter, so you've got to take that into consideration. I'd rather have take two free throws from the line where he might miss, as opposed to an easy dunk for him."
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro disagreed with Lopez's assessment.
"I thought it was dirty," Del Negro said. "He was trying to take him down, the league has got to do something to protect this kid, we can only get so many technical fouls, we can only do so many things. Guys are taking shots at him. Its getting bad. The kid is in pain right now and that's not something Alvin (Gentry) is about, and I know that so it is just an unfortunate play, it's going to happen in the intensity of a game, but we have to do what we can to protect Blake."
This was not the only disagreement that arose in this physical battle for playoff positioning.
Late in the third quarter, Jared Dudley got busted for a personal foul and a technical for fouling Griffin and getting up in his face after wildly attempting a steal. After Kenyon Martin inadvertently hit Dudley in the neck, Dudley felt the need to retaliate and took it out on Griffin.
"It started with Kenyon (Martin)," Dudley said. "I had surgery last year on my neck, so I'm real sensitive about my neck, so when he did that, I thought that was a cheap shot. He later apologized, but obviously I was running on high emotions and Blake (Griffin) caught the ball. If you are going at someone you might as well go at the big guy."
These two physical plays coupled with other smaller arguments demonstrate a change in the culture and style of play that the Suns are putting out on the court.
"People have kind of called Phoenix soft in the past," Lopez said. "And tonight I think we tried to do a good job of being the aggressors I suppose, especially near the end."
Phoenix needed this game and the physical play helped grind out the win, catapulting the Suns into a tie with Utah for the eighth and final playoff berth with three games to go.