This was not a pretty game. Far from it. I think you could probably count the offensive possessions that went as planned in the fourth quarter on one hand. And I'm talking about both teams combined. Even when a team got a basket, it was on a completely busted play -- as was the case with the game winner, a Chris Paul fall away over the defensive menace that is Andre Iguodala. But you know, if you're going to have a broken play, it's nice to have Chris Paul around -- I might have to start calling him Super Glue, because he fixes stuff that's broken. Like that final possession; like the Clippers offense; like the hearts of the citizens of Clips Nation.
The Los Angeles Clippers shot 39 percent from the field, 2 for 19 from deep ... and still managed to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, 78-77. This was a game that will do nothing at all for the offensive numbers but great things for a team's defensive ratings -- not to mention their confidence. The Clippers will take the win ugly or not, against a good team on the road. They move to 3-1 on the current road trip, 6-5 on the road on the season, and 16-8 overall. Sure, it's too bad that they lost Wednesday in Cleveland, as they could be undefeated on this trip. But they'll take 3-1 on the trip.
The Clippers would like to play pretty basketball. They'd like to have room to roam in the half court, run pick and roll, dive to the rim for dunks, and spot up for threes. That's how they want to win. They want to win games 106 to 95 or something like that. But it's good to know that they can win ugly when they need to.
This was the Clippers worst offensive performance of the season. OK, second worst, but that first game in Utah was only a teensy bit worse, and it featured a lot of minutes from guys we would expect to be bad. This was the third time they've shot under 40 percent from the field and the second time they've been held under 80 points; 78 was a season low in points. It was by far their worst performance from beyond the arc, and 15 free throws is their third fewest trips to the line this season. So they couldn't make shots, they especially couldn't make threes, and they couldn't get to the line. That more or less sums up the primary ways to score points in basketball. There are other ways, but they involve special fiats from David Stern.
So what did the Clippers do right? First and foremost, they protected the ball. They tied a season low with seven turnovers, and limited Philly to seven points on those miscues. As I pointed out in the preview, the Sixers are not a great half court offensive team, and if you can limit the number of easy baskets they get, then they will struggle. Which leads me to the other thing the Clippers did well -- they played defense. From midway through the second quarter on, Philadelphia got almost nothing easy.
Credit Mo Williams for turning the game around for the Clippers -- and doing it while feeling sick as a dog. Three minutes into the second quarter, absolutely nothing was going right for LA, and they were in danger of getting blown out. Philadelphia had built up a 12 point lead at 33-21, and the Clippers simply could not make a shot. Williams scored the next 12 Clipper points himself, leading the team on a 12-4 run that made it a game again. Neither team led by more than seven the rest of the way, and the score was within two points at each of the last three breaks: 41-43 at half, 60-61 after three and 78-77 final. Mo eventually joined the rest of the Clippers in their collective shooting slump, scoring only two more points the rest of the game. But those 12 second quarter points were huge, as they gave the team a renewed sense of purpose.
Only the most ardent fan of defensive basketball could have appreciated the fourth quarter -- and even he might have cringed at the number of second chances allowed. The Clippers had more offensive rebounds in the fourth (6) than Philadelphia had made field goals (4) -- and the Clippers only made 8 field goals themselves. If Williams gets special kudos for his second quarter shooting, Reggie Evans deserves recognition for his fourth quarter hustle. Evans had three offensive rebounds and a steal in the quarter, and he also forced two other turnovers. It was an ugly quarter, perfect for one of the ugliest players in the league.
The addition of Kenyon Martin to the roster gives Vinny Del Negro some options he didn't have before. For a long stretch of the fourth, Griffin, Martin and Evans were on the floor together. Martin had the primary assignment of defending Iguodala and so was ostensibly the small forward, but the truth is that those three together provide a tremendous amount of defensive flexibility. All have the size to battle bigs, with enough quickness to do a decent job on most threes. The Clippers defense was incredibly active in the fourth, switching screens and rotating agressively to open shooters.
It's hard to now how much credit to give to the defenses in this game, versus how much blame to assign to inept offenses and just plain bad shooting. How many games feature a team that can't inbound the ball in a crucial situation? This one featured both a five second count against the Sixers, and a turnover by the Clippers with 20 seconds left that almost cost them the game. Amazingly, even when one of the teams scored down the stretch, it was ugly, ugly, ugly. Philly's final six points came from the line, and none of the possessions had much promise at the time of the foul. Meanwhile, the Clippers last two baskets each featured Blake Griffin digging the ball out of a scrum and somewhat luckily finding a teammate who made a shot.
But forget the ugly for a moment. If Williams and Evans get special commendations during the game, it's Chris Paul who is the hero of the night. For one thing, he was the only Clipper that actually had a good night shooting the ball -- 10 of 20 for 24 points. The game winner was as tough a shot as there is. The clock was running out, and Iguodala had him bottled up. He seemed to have to extend his arms, taking something other than his normal jump shot over the lunging Iggy and he stilled managed to drain it. As he walked back to the huddle with 3.2 seconds left and the Clippers up one, he was saying to his teammates "I got this."