With very impressive wins against Western Conference frontrunners Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers improved their record to 6-3 while starting another three-game winning streak to prove, once again, that they can handle the league’s best competition.
It wasn’t always pretty against the Timberwolves. The game had some twists and turns and in the final seconds the Clips dodged a bullet, but it was still a very good win against an impressive Minnesota Timberwolves team. There were so many strange plays in the final four minutes it was easy to lose track of them all. When the Wolves inbounded down two points with seven seconds left, the Clippers defended the initial shot by Kevin Martin well, but allowed offensive rebounds to Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love. The tip in that Kevin Love had to tie the game at the buzzer is a shot he would make about 95 times out of 100, if not more, so the Clippers were very, very happy to come away with the win.
On that night, for once this season, it was the Clippers bench who played better, erasing a seven point first quarter deficit with a 10-0 run. The Clippers built their lead as high as 11 a couple of different times – and the Timberwolves even came back retake the lead a few times – but from the middle of the second quarter on, the Clippers never trailed by more than a basket, and only trailed for 51 seconds of game time. Each Minnesota run was answered with a Clipper run. The Wolves’ four big guns were all great – they got 30 points from Martin, 25 from Pekovic and 23 from Love. Ricky Rubio pitched in with 10 assists and some harassing defense on Chris Paul. Love had a huge game on the boards — not unusual for him — finishing with 19 and Pekovic had 10 himself. For Pekovic it was his by far his best game of the season. He’s been mired in an early season slump, scoring just 12 points per game while shooting about 40% after averaging over 16 a year ago.
It’s been far too long since the Clippers and Thunder played a ‘normal’ game against each other. The Clippers won this one, but a blatantly poor decision to eject Serge Ibaka played a major factor in the outcome. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 33 points and converted 15 free throws. Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while His Greatness (aka Chris Paul) passed out 16 assists to his eager teammates.The Thunder led 62-53 at the half, but the game turned upon one play with six seconds remaining in the second quarter. Blake Griffin secured an offensive rebound and purposely locked up Serge Ibaka‘s arm.
Ibaka flung him off and received a two-handed shove from Clippers bad boy, Matt Barnes. A schoolyard scuffle ensued, but the most violent action was Ibaka’s cocked fist held high behind his own ear for a couple of seconds. Nothing happened. No one even threw a punch, yet after a prolonged huddle between the refs, they ejected Barnes and Ibaka while Griffin was hit with a technical. At the time of the ejection, Barnes was 0-of-5 shooting and Ibaka was 6-of-6. The Clippers used Iblocka’s absence to own the third quarter, outscoring the Thunder 30-16 and seizing the lead. L.A. led by as many as 13 points in the fourth before OKC sliced the deficit to four with under four minutes remaining. But Jamal Crawford held off the comeback attempt with 12 fourth-quarter points while knocking down a clutch 3-pointer with 35 seconds left as the Clippers outlasted the Ibaka-less Thunder.
Against the Thunder, Jamal Crawford was more than OK, hitting a series of huge shots on his way to 18 points on 7-11 shooting. He made three of the Clippers’ four three pointers, and also had six assists, most of them leading directly to dunks. Paul just had his usual, 21 point, 11 assist, four steal night. The double-double stat in the NBA is always dominated by bigs who get double digits in rebounds and points – there are more rebounds available and rebounding averages tend to yield higher numbers than assists. But on the young season, two players have registered a double-double each night: Kevin Love and Chris Paul, with Paul registering double-digit assists in every game. The Clippers can flat-out score. With solid contributions from Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Chris Paul and especially J.J. Redick, the Clips have enough offensive power to go shot-for-shot with any and every team in the NBA.
With a 109.4 offensive rating, according to NBA.com, the Clippers are a juggernaut when it comes to scoring the basketball. The additions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley have helped to spread the floor with shooters, Chris Paul is carving up opposing point guards and living in the paint and Blake Griffin is once again making small (very small) strides in the post. On the other end of the floor, things aren’t going as well. The league’s second-best offense is paired with its third-worst defense, with a defensive rating of 105.7, according to NBA.com. This comes as a surprise now that Doc Rivers has installed his defensive system, one that has spread like wildfire throughout the league. Although the Clippers have started the season very strong, posting a 6-3 record, they are still giving up 106 points per game. That’s never good. The Clippers can score as many points as they want, but when they run to a very good defensive team (Spurs), some serious problems could be in store, especially in the playoffs. The defense has to step up in order for the Clippers to go to the next level.
Hey Matt Barnes…stop tweeting. Just stop.