So yeah, I messed up the whole DVR thing tonight. My season series on Prime Ticket doesn't do me any good when the game isn't on Prime Ticket. I knew I needed to set up the DVR to get the game on Fox Sports West tonight (as indeed I told everyone to do in the preview). But when I wrestled the TV away from my daughter (who was not happy as she hadn't yet finished watching America's Top Model) to settle in and watch some Clippers, I discovered to my horror that I had nothing. Luckily, it was only half time, so I got to watch the second half.
And based on the box score, if you're a Clippers fan and you were going to watch one half of this game, it would definitely be the second. The Clippers trailed the severely shorthanded Timberwolves by a point at the intermission -- but from the Clippers' first possession of the second half when Caron Butler hit a three, the Clippers never trailed again. Eventually they built the lead as high as 19 in the fourth and coasted to a 95-82 win.
It's not remarkable that the Clippers beat a Wolves team missing Ricky Rubio (out for the season with a torn ACL), Kevin Love (who suffered a concussion last night in Denver) and Luke Ridnour (out with a sprained ankle). With playoff positioning still very much in play, this is a game the Clippers absolutely had to win, and they did.
They did so mostly by making shots. The Clippers made 12 three pointers, including 10 of 20 from Butler, Randy Foye and Mo Williams, back in the lineup for the first time in a dozen games. We've said many times that when the Clippers are hitting from the perimeter, they can be very difficult to beat. Because the perimeter shots were falling tonight, Chris Paul got a rare break from carrying the Clippers on his back. Paul played only 29 minutes, his fewest since February 4. At this stage of the season, it's a luxury to be able to rest Paul so much. He finished with 8 points and 8 assists and 2 steals in those 29 minutes.
The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin who had a solid all around game with 19 points, 13 rebounds (8 on the offensive end) and 5 assists, and Butler who finished with 17, mostly on his 5 three pointers. Wiliams had a nice game in his return to action with 14 points and 5 assists in 20 rust-free minutes.
It was a no-nonsense performance, at least in the second half. There was one shaky stretch spanning at the end of the third quarter where Minnesota scored 9 straight to trim a 13 point lead down to 4. They got as close as 3 on the first bucket of the fourth quarter, at which point the Clippers reeled off 9 straight of their own, and the Wolves were never within single digits again.
Coupled with a come from behind win by the Spurs over the Grizzlies, the Clippers are now a game and a half ahead of Memphis for fourth place in the west. The Clippers will likely need every bit of that lead, as well as the tie-breaker they own, if they hope to hold off the Grizzlies, who have six of their remaining eight games against sub-.500 teams. The Clippers also pull within a game of the Lakers for first place in the Pacific, third in the conference.
Also important on the playoff front is that the Clippers magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to two -- any combination of two Clipper wins and Utah losses will put the Clippers into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, and only the fifth time in their L.A. history. In that sense, Saturday's game between Utah and Memphis is a no-lose situation for the Clippers -- one of those teams has to lose. Or is it a no win, since one of them has to win also? The Clippers also have a magic number of three with Phoenix, and the Suns have back-to-back road games in Texas against the Rockets and Spurs Friday and Saturday. In other words, the Clippers could easily clinch by Saturday.
With the win the Clippers move to a new high water mark on the season, 13 games over .500. The team was briefly 14 games over .500 in April 2006 at 44-30 -- I haven't actually looked, but I'm pretty sure that is the highest above .500 the team has been in its L.A. history, a mark they can match with a win Saturday afternoon. The current winning percentage of .610 is the best in franchise history.