So that's what a big win feels like, eh? I gotta say, it feels pretty good.
The Los Angeles Clippers, playing in the biggest game of the season so far (and the biggest game until Wednesday) dominated the defending champion Dallas Mavericks on their home floor. The Clippers trailed exactly once -- at 2-0. From then on, it was pretty much all L.A. Dallas tied the game for the last time at 11, but the Clippers went on a 14-4 run at that point to open a 10 point lead and never trailed again. In fact, Dallas never got within single digits for the final 30 minutes of basketball. The Clippers dominated every aspect of the game on their way to a 94-75 final.
I'm trying to think of an excuse for the Mavericks, to help explain their poor play tonight. Were they tired? Quite the opposite -- they were coming off two off days, a rare luxury at this point in this season. Did the game not mean as much to them? Hardly. A win would have put them in a good position to catch the Clippers for the fourth seed -- the loss dropped them all the way to sixth behind Memphis (a surprise winner in Oklahoma City), only two games ahead of ninth place Utah. Right now, the Mavs are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to hosting a first round series. Certainly Dallas did not play well (in particular they did not shoot well) but they have no excuses -- and you have to give some credit to the Clippers for taking them out of their game.
The hero on offense for the Clippers was Randy Foye. He finished with a season high 28, mostly on the strength of 8 three pointers. The 8 threes tied a Clippers franchise high set in 2004 by Quentin Richardson. It was interesting that Foye mostly made the open threes he took -- it wasn't like he was making crazy shots. Dallas' defense, so preoccupied with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, just kept leaving him. He took plenty of heat check threes in the course of the game -- and he missed all of those. The ones he made, he was open, and he drained them.
Dallas' overall confusion was epitomized on Foye's eighth three. Sitting in a zone, the Dallas defense knew full well that Foye had already made seven -- I mean, how could they not? With Foye holding the ball on the left side angle behind the arc, Dirk Nowitzki decided he had strayed to far from the basket to defend Foye, and looked to hand him off to the Delonte West at the top of the zone. Unfortunately, West wasn't paying attention, and as Nowitzki dropped off Foye, no one came over, the net effect being that the Mavericks defense just walked away from the hottest shooter in America Monday night. Foye nailed the three and a disgusted Rick Carlisle called timeout -- but it was too late. A discombobulated and demoralized Dallas team had no chance.
Amazingly, the Clippers won easily on a night when Chris Paul really struggled with his shot. Paul scored just 8 points on 3 for 12 shooting, missing all 5 of his three pointers (he did finish with 10 assists). I would categorize this win as different than the Clippers' victory in San Antonio last month. That Spurs win felt flukey to me, as the entire Clippers team was simply red hot. This win was legit -- the Clippers were the better team, the offense generated good shots and they made a decent percentage (47%), the defense made Dallas work, and LA easily won the rebounding war 49-38. This was a convincing win against the defending champs in the midst of a playoff race. Wow. Blake Griffin failed to score 20 points after doing so in six straight games -- but it doesn't mean he had a poor game. Griffin didn't force anything, took only 11 shots (making 7 of them), and grabbed 16 rebounds. A 15-16 double-double on 7-11 shooting against the Mavs? I'll take it.
There are some real superlatives attached to this win. In addition to tying the franchise record for threes by an individual in a game, the Clippers also stretched their current winning streak to six games -- the most for a Clippers team in 20 years. The win also snapped a 10 game losing streak in Dallas. Oh, and don't lose sight of the fact that the Clippers won the season series over Dallas for the first time since 2005. The Mavericks could certainly get hot down the stretch, but they'll have to do better than just tie the Clippers in the standings, since LA now owns the head to head tie breaker.
The win sets up a showdown between the Clippers and the Lakers back in LA on Wednesday night, with the Clippers hosting yet another rubber game in a season series. The Clippers will head into that meeting with a world of momentum, riding their longest streak in two decades. A win will at least bring them even in the loss column (depending on what the Lakers do against New Jersey Tuesday night), and once again it will decide the season series tie breaker. Suffice it to say that if the Clippers win that game, given how the two LA teams have been playing for the last week, you'd have to make the Clippers the favorite to win the division over the final three weeks of the season.
One big game down, one two go. This is fun.