LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 14: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers is fouled as he attempts a dunk on Matt Barnes #9 and Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 102-94 Clipper win at Staples Center on January 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
It's strange. As I've gotten more into the 'business' of having a blog (such as it is), I sometimes lose sight of why I have a blog in the first place. Here I am, closing in on 2 AM after the biggest Clipper win since ... since ... what? Since 2006 playoffs versus Denver? You know, that's not really an exaggeration. Anyway, I'm thinking, "I need to write something" but then I realize that tomorrow is Sunday, and blog traffic is low on Sunday, and if I write something, relatively few people are going to read it, so I should wait. But hold on, Monday's a holiday, not to mention that there's another game Monday. Besides - did I start a Clippers blog to generate page views? Absolutely not. I mean, I'm gratified that there's an audience out there, and I'll take the page views, but I started this blog to write what I want to write about the Clippers, so that's what I'm going to do, dammit.
I feel a little like Ron Burgundy. "I just wanted to shout it from on top of a mountain. But I didn't have a mountain. I had a newsroom and a camera." Well, I want to shout about the Clippers from a mountain, but I don't have a mountain, nor a newsroom and a camera; I have a blog.
The Clippers won a big game tonight, that goes without saying. And they really looked downright comfortable doing so. Yes, the Lakers got the lead down to three late in the third, but even as that happened, I really wasn't particularly worried. Or perhaps I should word that differently. I certainly saw the distinct possibility that the Clippers might lose the game - but it was just so painfully obvious that they were the better team that I didn't care that much.
Take for example the Darius Morris half court shot at the end of the first quarter. Of course I had visions of Shannon Brown making a similar shot at the end of the third quarter last year, of the Clippers slowly losing a lead and succumbing at the buzzer by a single point. And I'm sure I wasn't the only Citizen of Clips Nation thinking about that game. But whereas last year that win over the Lakers would have meant so much, because the rest of the season was a loss, this year it's no big deal to beat them. Being better than the Lakers (and lots of other NBA teams, I should add) is more important than beating the Lakers. And flukey wins based on half court heaves and superhuman efforts from one player aren't particularly troublesome when you have bigger fish to fry.
Kobe Bryant is an amazing scorer, but when he plays like he did in the third period tonight, it's fool's gold for the Lakers. Even if he carries them on his back to victory in a single game, as he might have tonight, it's simply not sustainable in the long term. Andrew Bynum is an absolute monster of an NBA center - what purpose does it serve the Lakers for Kobe to reduce him to a glorified Kwame Brown? If what we saw tonight is what the Lakers are going to be this season, they're done. Stick a fork in them. They'll win plenty of games, but they'll never win another championship that way.
The Clippers were better - just plain better. Now, the Lakers have had a grueling opening to the season, while the pace for the Clippers has been much more leisurely, and maybe the Clippers were fresher tonight. But the flaws I saw in the Lakers had nothing to do with tired legs. Kobe shot 50% on completely absurd shot selection - how much better could he possibly have been if he'd been 'fresher'? Bynum and Gasol were fine when they got the ball - they just didn't get the ball. (It is worth noting that on one fourth quarter turnover, Gasol was understandably taken completely unawares when Kobe actually attempted a pass - it's not surprising that Gasol and Bynum have less of an impact, even on the rare occasions that the get the ball, if they're constantly being ignored).
Much will be made of the Clippers outrebounding the Lakers tonight, considering that the Lakers were leading the league in rebounding while the Clippers were last coming into the game. But more than anything else, it just feels to me like the Clippers poor rebounding start was an artifact of a small sample size. The Clippers have empirically been a poor rebounding team so far, there's no denying that. But are they intrinsically a poor rebounding team? They certainly shouldn't be. Not with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans getting most if not all of the minutes up front. Evans of course has only been playing for four games now, during which the Clippers have outrebounded their opponents twice. So I think we're just getting back to normal on that front.
The Clippers, despite shooting poorly from the perimeter and getting next to nothing from a bench missing Mo Williams, nonetheless led the game wire-to-wire. In fact, the Lakers never even had a possession with the potential to tie the game in the second half, and didn't have a possession to take a lead after 4-2. That was with Caron Butler and Randy Foye each shooting 2 for 10 on mostly wide open jumpers (though Foye's two makes were both big). The Clippers bench only scored 11 total, with 10 of those coming from Foye, and shot just 2 for 16 as a group. The good news on that front is that Evans at least is making major contributions without scoring, and that as weak as the Clipper bench is, it's still far superior to the Lakers' bench - and Clippers fans know all too well that Mo Williams > Steve Blake.
After watching this game, it is simply clear to me that the Clippers are now better than the Lakers, and that's a big hurdle for Clips Nation. Now, I'll place a big caveat on that statement. Provided that the Lakers continue to play this way, marginalizing and almost ignoring perhaps the best tandem of bigs in the entire league, the Clippers are the better team. I really can't quite get over the fact that the Lakers have probably the second best "Big Three" in the league, and two of them didn't get the ball in the second half. To borrow another Ferrellism, it's mind bottling.
The Clippers on the other hand have a first level NBA star, fully capable of taking over games, a player currently redefining the power forward position, a former Finals MVP, and a cast of other guys, all of whom have a role on the team. Chris Paul gets the best out of his teammates - he doesn't marginalize them.
The Clippers faced their first challenge of the season this week and passed, winning two of three games against Portland, Miami and the Lakers. Yes, the two wins were at home, but they were wins. And importantly, there is a noticeable improvement in team chemistry and especially team defense in the last week. This team is clearly better than the one that lost to San Antonio and Chicago, and not just because Reggie Evans is playing.
The team is now tied for the second best record in the Western Conference based on winning percentage, which feels about right - and while it is true that the leisurely pace thus far has helped them, it's also true that the Clippers have played a pretty top heavy schedule so far. Losses at San Antonio and Portland and home to Chicago are nothing to be ashamed of.
So bring on the rest of the season now. Because I love Veronica Corningston.