On January 17, 2007, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors played a game in STAPLES Center just hours after the trade that sent Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Murphy and a couple others to Indiana for Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington. Missing four players, and with the replacements not yet available, the Warriors had the injured Adonal Foyle suit up just so they'd have the league-required eight players in uniform. But Kelenna Azubuike, in his eighth pro game after being called up from the D-League, and Monta Ellis, then a relative unknown in his second season, each scored 28 points and the Warriors gave the Clippers everything they wanted before L.A. eventually won.
Compared to the team that Golden State fielded this afternoon, that Warriors group from five years ago actually looks pretty good in retrospect. They had Baron Davis in the midst of his best season as a pro, Ellis, Azubuike, Matt Barnes and Andris Biedrins back before he was useless. Today, already missing Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry who are out for the season, the Warriors also played without David Lee and Richard Jefferson. That's the three best players and a key reserve from a team that isn't all the impressive to begin with. But once again the Warriors managed to keep things close before the Clippers eventually pulled away.
It didn't seem like it was going to be close early. The Clippers jumped out to a 24-5 lead based on an 11 for 12 shooting start that included 5 for 5 from DeAndre Jordan. But it's difficult to maintain your intensity when things have gone that easily, and the Clippers were bound to lose their edge. Unfortunately, when they did, the Warriors also got silly hot from deep, and the combination pretty quickly turned this into a game.
The Warriors made 11 of 18 three point shots in the first half -- including one heave by Nate Robinson at the end of a shot clock and one banked in by Brandon Rush. The Warriors cooled off considerably, but still finished with 15 three pointers on 31 attempts for the game. The 15 tied the Warriors season high for a non-overtime game. All 15 were scored by four guys, as indeed were the vast majority of the Warriors' points -- Robinson (28 points), Klay Thompson (24), Dorell Wright (23) and Rush (22) scored 97 of Golden State's 104 points. Their fourth highest scorer was Jeremy Tyler with 4.
Although it would have been nice had this game been a little easier, as it seemed it would be early, the outcome was never much in doubt. The Clippers never trailed (though they did allow the Warriors to tie the game twice early in the second half) and were able to rebuild a double digit lead in the fourth quarter. This despite the fact that the Warriors made 15 three pointers and the Clippers missed 16 free throws. Truth be told, had the Clippers simply made a reasonable percentage from the line (they were 6 for 18 at one point) the game would never have been close.
The free throw shooting is of course a huge concern heading into the playoffs and could prove to be an achilles heel for the team. Two games after making 19 of 21 in a two point win in Oklahoma City, the Clippers were a putrid 14 for 30 from the line today. I guess we should be thankful that those numbers weren't reversed and that the Clippers came out of those two games with two wins.
Chris Paul led the way with 28 points and 13 assists, making 12 of 17 shots and all three of his three pointers. Blake Griffin had his way with Tyler and the rest of the other Golden State "Bigs" (I'm using the term loosely) and scored 20 points on 9 for 14 shooting -- but was just 2 for 8 from the line. DeAndre Jordan finished with 18 after his great first quarter, and Mo Williams scored 14 off the bench in his second game back.
The bad news is that the Clippers still look pretty terrible against zone defenses -- Eric Bledsoe seemed to forget how easily he penetrated the Sacramento zone last week and instead all the Clippers stood around the perimeter again. The Clippers also looked more mismatched than they have in a while. That's partly because Williams is back and demands to get minutes and partly because the Warriors are a strange team to match up with. The Warriors most effective lineup featured Nate Robinson at 5'9", and four guys (Wright, Thompson, Rush and Dominic McGuire) between 6'6" and 6'9". That situation is pretty much guaranteed to produce some mismatches on both ends of the court. Still, it's hard not to come away from this game without the nagging suspicion that the Clippers' ill-fitted roster could cost them at some point in the post season.
In the end, it's still a win, the Clippers' 11th in 13 games. They pull back within a game of the Lakers, and move a little further ahead of the Grizzlies, pending the result of Memphis' meeting with Utah. They move 14 games over .500 for the first time since 2006, and only the second time in their L.A. existence. And if Phoenix loses in San Antonio tonight, they'll clinch a playoff spot for only the fifth time in 28 years.
Still it's funny: in his Weekend Dime, Marc Stein listed seven teams that he feels are legitimate title contenders, yet the Clippers weren't among them. This despite the fact that the Clippers are hotter than anyone right now, are playing their best basketball when it matters most, have a better record than two teams he does consider contenders and a better point differential than three of them. More importantly, it's difficult to imagine how any team with Chris Paul would NOT be considered a title contender.