The Clippers had their second highest point total of the season, as well as their second highest margin of victory, and I keep thinking about how they could be 4-0 on this road trip if only they had made a few more free throws in New Jersey last night. And I bet I'm not the only one!
But I'm going to stop thinking about that, and instead write about how well they played tonight. Once again, the Clippers built a big early lead (32-13 nine and a half minutes into the game in this case) and once again they watched that lead shrink as the hosts began to play a little better. But this time, after allowing the Wizards to trim the lead all the way down to three points early in what was shaping up to be another infamous third quarter, the Clippers once again seized control of the game and dominated the rest of the way. Over the next 14 minutes, LA outscored DC 38-14 to build the lead all the way to 27 points. This is all the more remarkable considering that the Clippers played an overtime game the night before. The blow out win allowed Blake Griffin to take the entire fourth quarter off, giving him what may well be some much needed rest late in his first NBA season.
Grifffin scored all 26 of his points in the first half, taking only two shots in eleven second half minutes. But so many Clippers contributed tonight that Blake wasn't missed at all in the second half. Mo Williams scored 22 a night after shooting 3 for 17. DeAndre Jordan had a 10 point, 17 rebound night. Chris Kaman had 14 points in just 22 minutes, shooting 6 for 9. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 10 points on 5 shots.
And then there was Eric Bledsoe. On a night when John Wall and Blake Griffin were supposed to be the story (and with 25 and 26 respectively, they lived up to the billing), the other rookie guard from Kentucky may have been the most impressive player on the court. As the Clippers were breaking the game wide open down the stretch, Bledsoe was leading the way. He scored 21 of his career high 23 points in the final 15 minutes. In one stretch in the fourth quarter, he had a right handed dunk, followed by a left handed dunk, followed by a two handed follow dunk - all in the course of four trips down the floor and less than two minutes of clock time. That's three dunks in two minutes from a 6'1" point guard, folks. In addition to the 23 points, he had 8 rebounds and 6 assists. The way he rebounds, he has a chance to be one of the leading triple double threats in the league when he eventually takes over the starting point guard position in LA. Wall's athleticism is supposed to set him apart - but Bledsoe was the more explosive athlete tonight.
We haven't spent much time on a nickname for Bledsoe - if one of Griffin's monikers is Blake Show, how about Bled Show for the new EB?
It must be noted that the Wizards are terrible, particularly on defense, and that any number of players could have lit them up tonight. But having said that, if you're looking for a game to get you excited about the Clippers' future, look no further. With Eric Gordon sitting out (and Gordon is something of a known quantity), the rest of the Clipper U-23s put on a show. Griffin is Griffin. Jordan was a monster, and when he's getting 17 rebounds is when he's best. Aminu showed several of the flashes that make him such an intriguing prospect - the long arms, the pesky defense, leading and finishing fast breaks. And Bledsoe was the best of them all. That group, with Gordon, a few years from now when they're 23, 24 and 25? Scary. It may not pan out, lots of things can go wrong, but on the other hand they could be an amazing starting five, with many, many prime years ahead of them.
The other amazing thing about this game was the production the Clippers received from just a few positions. Williams and Bledsoe combined for 45 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds (Bledsoe contributing 8 of those rebounds) from the point guard. Jordan and Kaman combined for 24 points and 19 rebounds (DJ accounting for 17 of them) on 64% shooting from the center spot (though they did have 58 minutes total, so they also logged some power forward minutes). They didn't get much from the wings, but they don't need much of they're going to get that much from the one and the five.
It's interesting to note that in Eric Gordon's absence, Vinny Del Negro went with Aminu at the back up two guard tonight. He never played Bledsoe and Williams on the court together and instead let Aminu defend the two when Randy Foye was out of the game. As I've said before, the thing that gets my attention with Aminu is his defense. With his combination of length, lateral quickness and athleticism, he has a chance to be really special on that side of the ball.
Despite the loss in New Jersey, the Clippers still have a chance to have their best five game road trip in the team's LA history. Memphis is a much better team than Washington - but if the Clippers can play like they did tonight, it is their game to win.