The Sacramento Kings came into Staples Center without former rookie-of-the-year Tyreke Evans, and played the second half without center DeMarcus Cousins... but neither of those omissions made this one easy for the Clips.
The bench, so often superior this year, played sloppily throughout the game. Fortunately, behind huge games from Chris Paul- 24 points (including 5 3-pointers), 13 assists, 5 rebounds, and 5 steals and Blake Griffin- 21 points (9-16) and 13 rebounds. the Clips managed to bring home their twelfth victory in a row, breaking the all-time franchise record for consecutive wins.
Clips were up by fourteen at halftime in this one and it looked like they were gonna simply run over the Kings. But then a couple of curious things happened. First, Demarcus Cousins, the Kings talented, troubled, big man failed to reappear on the court after the halftime break... apparently a disciplinary move by Kings coach Keith Smart. Then, halfway through the third, when the Clippers bench replaced the starters, the Kings got on a little run and the Clips went sloppy and cold.
Jamal Crawford had a terrible game, going 2 for 12 and scoring only five points. Eric Bledsoe was sloppy, with seven turnovers. Fortunately for the Clips, they've got a pair of superstars... and tonight they both showed up. Blake Griffin was a whirling dervish, his zeal and determination in the paint was epic, and he hit a handful of graceful, hesitation-free jumpers as well.
Chris Paul had a classic, Chris Paul game; whenever the Kings cut the lead down to short numbers (getting as close as six at one point) Paul would hit a three or deliver a neat pass to an open man. His control of the game was masterful... and it was a brilliant jigsaw fit with Griffin's tough, determined inside game. Their pick-and-roll offense was absolutely beautiful, as good as I've ever seen it, and the Kings had absolutely no answers.
A few other observations:
- DeAndre Jordan (21min) continues to lose minutes to a rapidly improving Lamar Odom (27min). Odom's defense and quickness around the basket was one of the few things working off the Clippers bench. Odom's not really showing up in the boxscore, but I can think of only one other power forward who can handle, rebound, and pass as well as he does.... (and they both play for the same team).
- Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe had really tough nights, surprising for Crawford who's been a monster at home. I wonder if Bledsoe is suffering more from recent injuries than we know. Fortunately Matt Barnes had a sneaky thirteen points and continues to do all the little things.
-Clips defense, especially among the starters, continues to impress. I think it's time to give credit to the Clippers coaching staff. Someone, maybe it's the new guy, Bob Ociepka, has turned last year's bottom of the barrel defenders into one of the best in the west. Of course it doesn't hurt when one of your stars buys in. Griffin is better at a number of things this year but his dedication to the defensive end this year (and recently, his activity on the defensive boards) has been flat out remarkable.
- For a late stretch in the fourth, Vinny Del Negro kept Eric Bledsoe on the floor along with Chris Paul (giving him minutes usual reserved for Crawford). It's a lineup a lot of us have been excited to see. By my eyes, the results were mediocre... Bledsoe defers to CP and seems unsure exactly what's expected of him. They did connect however for a ridiculous lob-slam when Paul tossed Bledsoe the ball off a break. Even though the ball was below the rim, Bledsoe hammered it home with ease. You forget that these guys are the two smallest players on the team.
It certainly wasn't a beautiful or easy win for the Clips, but the Clips two big stars were well-rested, ready to go, and answered the call. They were simply and clearly the difference in this one.
Clips go for a neat thirteen Sunday night on the road in Phoenix.