In the course of an 82 game season, and indeed even in the course of a 10 game winning streak, not all of the wins are going to be masterpieces. The Los Angeles Clippers, for the first time in their west coast history and the first time in 38 years since the franchise was in Buffalo, won their tenth straight game Monday night, downing the Detroit Pistons 88-76. It wasn't the prettiest win, it probably wasn't as easy as it should have been, but it's still a win, and in the end it was even a double digit win.
The Clippers started slowly, but beginning a couple minutes into the second quarter, they started to take control. They went on a 21-10 run and appeared to have the upper hand, but it turned out to be the first of a couple of false alarms because unfortunately, the team had a problem closing quarters. The offense went completely dormant for the final three minutes of the first half, allowing the Pistons to close to within two points at halftime.
The same scenario played out in the third quarter. The Clippers took control of the game and began to pull away, building a 12 point lead at one point. They still led 63-53 when they disappeared again. They went without a point for the final three and half minutes this time, and their lead was down to three by the end of the third quarter, and then down to one when Will Bynum scored the first basket of the fourth.
What good teams do when they are having trouble scoring is they win with their defense, and that's exactly what the Clippers did. The second unit that has been so effective to start fourth quarters this season dug their heels in and turned the tide once and for all. On Detroit's next nine possessions, they scored two points, shot 1-4 and turned the ball over five times. The Clippers defense actively forced all of those turnovers, which included such rarities as a five second inbound violation and a shot clock violation. They also blocked two shots. By the time the starters returned, they were protecting an 11 point lead.
There was still some sloppy play to come in the final couple of minutes and the Clippers actually gave the Pistons a couple of clean looks at three pointers than could have cut the lead to four. But they came up empty on the threes, and the final two baskets of the game wound up being Blake Griffin steal dunks -- one that will be on every highlight reel for the next month at least, and one that left the crowd at the Palace feeling more than a tad disappointed.
The leading scorers for the Clippers were Griffin and Jamal Crawford, with 15 points a piece -- so it wasn't exactly a big game for anyone in red. Instead it was a balanced effort, with three others (Chris Paul with 14, Caron Butler with 11 and Matt Barnes with 10) joining them in double figures. Barnes continued his remarkable play of late, and capped a road trip in which he scored double figures in every game, and averaged 16 points per game and shot 60 percent from the field. The Clippers remain undefeated when he scores double figures off the bench this season -- a perfect 12-0.
The win, coupled with the Spurs loss to the Thunder, leaves the Clippers with the second best record in the Western Conference at 18-6. It's also the team's best 24 game start in franchise history and their best-ever winning percentage this late in a season and probably a lot of other superlatives if I bothered to look them all up. Actually, the Clippers would have the best record in the West if the Thunder weren't equally white hot (Oklahoma City has won 11 in a row compared to the Clippers 10). And although one is advised not to count chickens, with Western Conference bottom feeders queued up in the next three games, there's no reason to expect them to lose any time soon.
The Clippers finish the current road trip a perfect 4-0, moving their road record this season to a stellar 8-3. The win in Milwaukee was what happens when everything is clicking and everything goes right for the team. The win in Detroit was something else, something less impressive, something less exciting. But it's still a win. And good teams need both kinds.
For the Pistons perspective, check out Detroit Bad Boys.