LOS ANGELES-Big-time players know when to step up and play big time when they have to. That scenario has almost always played out with the same results this season for the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s almost a given now to see Blake Griffin and Chris Paul go into their bags of tricks to pull out a win when the going gets tough. Saturday night against the Washington Wizards was no different.
Nursing a tenuous 87-86 lead with less than two minutes in the game, the two recently announced starting NBA All-Stars went to work and took over the game. Griffin scoops in a spectacular, whirling lay-up after grabbing a rebound. Paul then comes back to nail a 17-foot jump shot with just over 32 seconds remaining to seal the deal.
For good measure, Paul finished off his 22-points, 11-assist night against the Wizards with a pair of free throws in the Clippers’ 94-87 win at Staples Center.
This kind of stuff is getting to be routine for Griffin and Paul. But the Clippers wouldn’t have needed their dynamic duo to rescue them if they shot the basketball better than the dismal 36 percent (34 of 93) shooting the team produced from the floor. Besides Griffin and Paul’s late-game heroics, what saved the Clippers from a not-so-cool defeat to the Wizards at home was their rebounding.
The Clippers grabbed 58 rebounds to Washington’s 43. The Clippers also forced 18 turnovers, two areas in which coach Vinny Del Negro acknowledged said was critical to the team’s win.
“We didn’t shoot the basket ball very well tonight, that’s for sure,” Del Negro said. “We had to relay on our defense and our rebounding. We did a good job on the glass…we missed a lot of easy shots we usually make, but we got some stops when we needed to. Washington was getting some of their players back and had been playing very well. I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Griffin finished his evening with a double-double, going for 17 points and 11 rebounds. Lamar Odom and Eric Bledsoe came off the bench to spark the Clippers. Odom contributed with 10 rebounds, while Bledsoe took up the scoring slack from an off-night by Jamal Crawford, scoring 11 points.
That’s the way it has been with the Clippers all season. Unselfish play in team sports is an overused adage. That adjective fits the play of the Clippers about as well as a tire hugging on for dear life on a well-designed and polished rim. That is why it is no coincidence that the Clippers have played lights out this season, taking the fast track to a commanding lead in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division and sporting one of the top two won-loss records in the NBA.
That comes from the top. The Clippers have taken their cue from Paul the last two seasons and have gone from dormant league busters to potentially busting down the door to a successful run to the NBA Finals, if they continue to play the way they’ve been playing. By looking at their body of work this season, it’s a very good chance that will happen.
Before the team made Griffin the No.1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Clippers were sorely lacking in the buzz department. Before the arrival of Paul prior to the 2011-2012 season, the Clippers lacked the big-time leader and floor stabilizer needed to inject a new way of competing. The acceptance of habitual losing has been tossed out of the window the last two years with the Clippers’ two dynamic mainstays leading the team to an unprecedented script of success.
That success has translated into a run to the second round of the playoffs last season, picking up key free agents like Odom, Matt Barnes, Crawford and Grant Hill. It also accounts fro why the Clippers made their recent road trip a good example of the way of how the team plays with one mind, one spirit and only one agenda, and that’s to win. Paul, nursing an injury to his right kneecap, was out of action for those games.
It didn’t matter. With the best bench in the NBA, the Clippers whipped upon the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and the Minnesota Timberwolves without blinking an eye of playing Paul, which goes to the core of the team’s chemistry. But a team can have chemistry and not win. The Clippers don’t just get along on the court, they are a team that maximizes its strengths with the right personnel on the floor at the right times.
Lob City isn’t just regulated to a Paul-Griffin connection. It’s a high-tide fever that has caught on with the rest of the team. There was a time when the Clippers’ aerial show consisted of a Paul spectacular pass to Griffin or to DeAndre Jordan for a highlight reel dunk. Not anymore. Now you have Griffin tossing it up to Jordan for a thunderous slam as he did against the Wizards.
The Clippers have come a long way, going from a team that won just 32 games during the 2010-2011campaign to putting a product on the floor that is dominating the league this season. The Clippers have already matched the total of 32 wins through the team’s first 41 games. But the real test of the team’s mettle will be tested down the road.
Beginning Jan. 30, the Clippers go on an eight-game road trip, including stops in New York (Knicks), Miami (Heat) and Boston (Celtics), before they return to the comfy confines of Staples Center on Feb. 13, when they play host to the Houston Rockets.
“We know we’ve have to play better in a lot of areas,” Del Negro said.