The Los Angeles Clippers won consecutive games for the first time in over a month today, beating the Detroit Pistons in overtime, 87-83. And while they'll take the win, it remains at least that same month since the Clippers have actually played well -- I mean really played well. They certainly didn't play well today.
Part of that is attributable to shooting woes. As has happened far too often in the last month, the Clippers simply didn't make enough shots. As much as people like to talk about Lob City and Blake Griffin dunks, the Clippers are very much a jump-shooting team this season. Much of their early season success was based on the ability of Caron Butler and Mo Williams to make jump shots, and on three point shooting from those guys and Randy Foye and Chauncey Billups. Well, Billups is gone, Butler is mired in a massive slump, Williams has been hot and cold lately, and consequently the Clippers are struggling. Williams and Butler combined to make just 5 of 26 fields goals and the team barely shot above 40% for the game. From distance they made just 4 of 20 threes.. In that sense, I guess it's good to get a win when they were not able to make shots, but it all seems like such a struggle.
Over the course of this now concluded home stand, the Clippers lost to the Warriors, Suns and Celtics, and went down to the wire against the Rockets and the Pistons. They needed both of those wins to pull out a 3-3 home stand -- which is certainly not what they were hoping for when the home stand started.
This game started out well enough. The Clippers looked sharp in the first quarter and built up a 10 point lead at 24-14 with about a minute to go in the period. But as has happened far too often lately, they simply disappeared at that point. When they should have been stepping on the gas (and on the throat of their opponents) the Clippers let up, and Detroit came storming back. Four straight Pistons points to close the first, combined with an abysmal14 point second quarter saw the Pistons leading by three at the half.
Detroit led basically the rest of regulation, building the lead up as high as 10. But the Clippers clamped down on defense in the final quarter, holding Detroit to just 9 points in the period, and as he has done some many times this season, Chris Paul saved the Clippers late.
Paul's final line for the game is pretty awesome -- 19 points, 15 assists, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. Importantly, 15 of his points came in the fourth quarter or overtime.
It's great that Paul is able to step up in those end of game situations, and I don't mean to seem ungrateful, but it's worth asking why he only had 4 points through the first three quarters? I understand that he likes to defer, to get other people involved earlier in games, but don't we have plenty of evidence at this point that the Clippers are much more successful when Paul is scoring not just late but also early?
The game marked the Clippers debut of Nick Young, and though he did not shoot well (1 for 6), he was definitely able to contribute. In a bit of a surprise considering that it was his first game and he hasn't been through a practice yet, Young played 29 minutes. He was able to get to the free throw line, making 7 of 8, and he also played good defense, coming up with a key steal early in the overtime that gave the Clippers the lead. Since Chauncey Billups' injury, the Clippers have definitely had difficulty getting to the line, and of course the team has been challenged on defense all season, so Young's contributions in those areas are definitely encouraging.
With the availability of Young, coach Vinny Del Negro went small down the stretch, playing Griffin at the 5, Butler at the 4 and Young at the 3. I guess you could say it worked, given that the Clippers were able to pull out a win -- but there were definitely some nervous moments. After the Paul's three pointer had given the Clippers a five point lead, the Pistons, who had struggled to score all game themselves, scored the next six straight, all by simply being bigger than the guys defending them. Greg Monroe overpowered Blake on a post move, Jonas Jerebko did the same to Butler, and then Monroe got an offensive rebound and two free throws when Griffin fouled him. Vinny really seems to like the small lineups -- i can't say that I necessarily agree. For the game, the Clippers were outrebounded 47-40, with the Pistons grabbing 13 offensive boards.
Still, it's a win and better still a winning streak, but this team is still in dire need of ... something. A wake up call, a mojo injection, a good talking to ... something.
They head out on the road now for a dreaded back-to-back-to-back in Indiana, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. I guess they good news is that they haven't been particularly good at home lately, so maybe the road won't be so bad after all.