LOS ANGLES-When things are going good, they’re going good. The Los Angeles Clippers are rolling through the NBA right now like a water stream seeping its way into the Pacific Ocean. And they’re doing it with the adapt, overcome and deliver mantra. That’s exactly what the Clippers have done in the last two games against the Utah Jazz.
First, the Clippers put on a spectacular rally to come-from-behind a 19-point deficit to upset the Jazz for an unlikely road win to preserve the longest win streak in the NBA in four years. On the eve of New Year’s Eve, the Clippers used the makeup of their versatile roster to stave off the Jazz again with a rugged 107-96 win in front of a sellout crowd at Staples Center, keeping their 17-game winning streak intact.
Like they have done in so many games this season, particularly during their unblemished run, the Clippers were led by a couple of hot hands when others didn’t or couldn’t find their shooting touch. With forward Blake Griffin being limited in minutes due to foul trouble and Chris Paul getting off to a slow start, Caron Butler took up the scoring slack early in the game, scoring 17 of his team-high 29 points in the first quarter to stake the Clippers to a 29-24 lead.
“It’s been unreal like how many different ways we’ve won and which guys have shown up, and how they’ve shown up,” said Griffin. “Some guys haven’t scored. Some guys play defense. They’ve gotten stops, they gotten turnovers. It’s kind of a selfless attitude the team has taken on.”
Jamal Crawford took his teammate’s cue of stepping up, coming off the bench to pour in 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers close the deal on the always pesky Jazz. Paul finished the game with 19 points and nine assists, while center DeAndre Jordan contributed 14 points and six rebounds. The win was atypical of the Clippers are playing this season: unselfish play, tough on-the-ball defense and role players filling in the gap when opponents focus on shutting down or slowing their superstars (Paul, Griffin).
“Caron, when he is aggressive like that, hitting his shots, it opens things up for everybody,” Crawford said after the game. “He’s always the guy who would do anything on the court. When he’s hitting shots like that it makes our team that much more potent. Our second unit, I made the baskets, but Rony (Turiaf) set the screens, Matt (Barnes) gives me good passes, Lamar (Odom) feeding me-it’s always the whole unit doing well. Tonight, we did that.”
If Paul and Griffin resemble a Mike Tyson right punch body shot-left uppercut combination, Butler and Jamal Crawford can be likened to the quick-strike counterpunches unleashed by Hall of Fame boxer Sugar Ray Leonard during his legendary career. They come at you fast and before opponents know what hit them they’re in backpedal mode after a flurry of points have been rained down on their heads.
Utah looked like that kind of team when Butler nailed five 3-point shots in the first quarter to lead the Clippers in scoring. The thing about Butler and Crawford, a team really has no idea when they are going to erupt for a scoring outburst. After his unexpected scoring output in the first quarter, Butler went quiet in the second, netting zero points. But in the third period, Butler’s shooting touch resurfaced long enough for him to score 12 points in the quarter.
With the Clippers starting the fourth quarter with reserve players on the floor, Crawford connected on six of his nine shots from the field to help the Clippers outscore the Jazz 28-20 in the last period.
“It says a lot about this team,” said Barnes. “You can’t really key on one or two guys. Tonight, Blake was in foul trouble and didn’t get a chance to score a lot, but Caron had 29 (points), Chris had 19 (points), Jamal had 19 (points), so I think we are a hard team to game-plan for, and it’s a credit to our depth.”