After coming back from a seven-game road trip where they finished at a disappointing 4-3, the Los Angeles Clippers looked to rebound and get back on track with a home match against the Spurs; with a convincing 115-92 win over arguably the best team in the NBA, the Clippers made a powerful statement to the entire league. It was the sort of game that the Clips would’ve lost 9.9 times out of 10 in the past, and not just because of the team’s embarrassing history prior to the dawn of the Blake Griffin-Chris Paul era. The Spurs had owned the Clippers in the past winning the last 23 of 28 meetings and with the Spurs dominating the Western Conference this year, it did not look like the Clippers could stop the rolling force that is Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the Spurs. The Clippers certainly had other plans.
The first half started off a bit slow for the Clippers, but they found themselves up by four going into halftime. Then they exploded. It started with a Willie Green three, then featured Stephen Jackson‘s best sequence of basketball in at least eight months and some tenacious and opportunistic defense that forced five turnovers and also blocked a shot. The Clippers turned a 10 point deficit into a nine-point lead, never trailed in the game, and outscored the 19-4 Spurs by 33 points, 94-61, the rest of the way in the second half. The Clippers’ hustle shone through in the second half during a 19-0 spurt. It showed again at the end of the third, as L.A. closed out with six straight points, and in the fourth, when the Clips turned a four-point nail-biter into a 23-point blowout with a flurry of free throws and 3s—capped by Jamal Crawford‘s 33-footer for the final score. All told, the Clippers finished with a whopping 37 points off 22 Spurs turnovers, many of which were the result of L.A.’s frantic effort to jump into passing lanes and gum up San Antonio’s usually free-flowing offense.
Blake Griffin gave one of the grittiest performances of his career. Griffin torched the Spurs while displaying a plethora of offensive moves scoring from all spots on the floor in many different ways. He finished with 27 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting and a much improved 11-for-15 from the foul line. This performance against one of the league’s best has to give Griffin a great deal of confidence heading into the important second half of the season that could solidify the Clippers’ home-court advantage in the postseason. While Chris Paul may be the brain, eyes and ears of the Clips, Blake Griffin is the neck that keeps the head up. Without Griffin the Clippers desperately lack both athleticism and low post scoring and the pick-and-roll offense they so desperately depend on is not as effective. His partner is crime, Chris Paul was fantastic as usual while scoring 27 points, dishing out seven assists, gathering eight boards and recording four steals. Both he and Griffin greatly contributed to a fantastic defensive effort against a Spurs team that has an abundance of offensive power.
This is, by far, the most significant victory of the Clippers’ season. The team has struggled against the league’s elite teams, posting a 1-4 record against the top three teams from both conferences before heading into this game and many questioned whether or not they have what it takes to overcome those elite teams or just feast on weak teams and pad their record. The Clippers put all of these questions to bed on Monday night. They played with flair, energy and a tremendous amount of heart against a team that has won three championships since the start on the century. This gives the Clippers a large amount of momentum in the seven games they play before Christmas where five of the seven teams they play are .500 or better. With a 16-9 record this season, the Clippers look to built their record and gain some momentum in the hope to secure home-court advantage for the playoffs. This will be very important for their postseason success as the Clips thrive at home (9-2) but, more importantly, have not had great success on the road, posting just a 8-7 record away from Staples Center. The Clippers are not at an elite level, like the Spurs, quite yet but they’re getting closer, little by little. We’ll know better what this team is made of come the spring.