Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
It probably should have been a little easier, but in the end the Clippers got their eighth straight win, beating the Bobcats in Charlotte. The Clippers never trailed after the first period and ran their record to 16-6, tying the best record after 22 games in franchise history.
Try as they might, the Los Angeles Clippers could not run away from the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night. The Clippers trailed for less than a minute all evening, at 11-10 in the first quarter, and never trailed from the second quarter on. But each time it felt like they might pull away and end the suspense, Charlotte would get a key stop and hit a tough shot. Actually, truth be told, as often as not it was the Clippers stopping themselves rather than the Bobcats actively getting a stop -- I lost track of all the bunnies the Clippers missed in the game.
Still, a win is a win, road wins are always welcome, and this win was the Clippers eighth in a row, tying their longest winning streak since moving to California in the late 70s. (Note that on the Prime Ticket broadcast they showed a graphic listing an 11 game streak for the Buffalo Braves in 1974 and a nine game streak for the San Diego Clippers in 1978, but that does not appear to be correct. According to basketball-reference.com, the Clippers won eight straight from February 15 1978 to March 2 1978, but they did not win nine.)
The Clippers had trouble finding their defensive intensity and allowed the Bobcats to score much too easily through much of the game. But in the middle part of the fourth quarter, with the game on the line and the lead down to three, the second unit turned things up a notch and took Charlotte out of the game. The Bobcats missed 11 consecutive field goal attempts over a five minute stretch, at least four of which were blocked by the Clippers. L.A. also had two steals during that time, during which the Cats scored exactly two free throws on about a dozen possessions. Unfortunately, the Clippers were still having trouble converting easy scoring or the lead would have grown to a lot more than 10 during that sequence. As it happens, 10 was safe enough as the best Charlotte could muster down the stretch was to cut the lead to five on a Byron Mullens three pointer with 30 seconds remaining.
As is so often the case, the Clippers bench was ultimately the decisive factor in the game. Matt Barnes tied Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Mullens for game high honors with 19, running his record to 10-0 when he comes off the bench to score in double figures. Eric Bledsoe had 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench, and Jamal Crawford had a season low nine points but balanced that with a season high eight assists.
The shakeout on minutes distribution in close games continues and will be interesting to keep an eye on going forward. Wednesday night Barnes played 24 minutes to Caron Butler's 18, and Lamar Odom played 24 to DeAndre Jordan's 22. It will be interesting to see how the two starters react if the trend continues and Barnes and Odom continue getting not just the crunch time minutes but also the lion's share overall.
Vinny Del Negro was also able to give Chris Paul plenty of rest, even if he couldn't quite give him the entire fourth quarter off as has so often been the case in recent games. Paul played the final five minutes to finish with just 31 minutes overall. It's a luxury few teams other than the Spurs really enjoy, to be able to spare your superstars the grind of 40-plus minutes in tight games.
Odom and Crawford, although they combined for just 14 points on 4-17 shooting, proved their worth in other ways. Crawford had his most difficult shooting night as a Clipper hitting just 2-12 field goals, but he and Odom are such good playmakers that more often than not good things are happening on offense, even if their shots aren't falling. In fact, the two of them combined on the play that turned the game around. With the lead down to three, Odom snared a defensive rebounds (he had nine in the game) and rifled a perfect outlet pass to Crawford at midcourt. Crawford took one dribble and threw a perfect lob to Barnes at the rim for a dunk. You've heard of seven seconds or less? This was about three seconds, with exactly one dribble from a rebound on one end of the floor to a dunk on the other. Soon thereafter the lead was in double digits and the game was never again in doubt.
The Clippers will have to play better in Milwaukee Saturday night to keep their winning streak alive. The Bucks are much more talented than the Cats, and if L.A. lets Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings hang around until the end game they will likely forget it. But the good news is that the team has the next two days off, and so will be well-rested for the game in Milwaukee.
The Clippers have to keep winning to stay ahead in the Pacific Division, where the Golden State Warriors keep winning as well. The Warriors won their fifth straight, beating the Heat in Miami Wednesday night to stay just one game back of the Clippers. The win runs Golden State's road record to 9-4, which is excellent. I guess we should all be happy about the Warriors -- with the Lakers now seven games off the pace, the Clippers would run the risk of becoming complacent without the Dubs nipping at their heels.
For the Charlotte perspective on Wednesday night's game, visit Rufus on Fire.
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