Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
For the second game in two nights, the Clippers beat a Western Conference playoff team on the road playing without their team leader Chris Paul.
Wow. Wowzers. Or as the late great Bozo the Clown might have said, Wowie Kazowie.
It would have been impressive enough for the Los Angeles Clippers to go into Memphis (14-4 at home at the time) and Houston (14-6) and win back-to-back road games at full strength. To do so without the services of their best player, Chris Paul, who sat out for the second straight night with a sore knee? What is there to say but wow.
This team is really playing with a purpose right now. Despite a first half in which the Rockets hit eight three pointers and at one point made three in a matter of less than two minutes (it would have been four but Jeremy Lin's foot was on the line on the fourth), the Clippers took Houston's best shot, stood in and said "Is that all you got?"
After that flurry of threes, the Rockets had their biggest lead of the game at 52-45 with three and a half minutes left in the first half. From there the Clippers closed the first half on a 13-7 run to close to within a point, and opened the second half on a 25-6 run, in all a 38-13 barrage that decided the game. The Rockets never again got within 10 points until some meaningless three pointers from garbage time scrubs accounted for the final margin.
The Clippers did it with defense. James Harden scored 14 points in the first quarter, but once the Clippers stuck Matt Barnes on him that changed. With Harden finding it more difficult to find space, the Rockets' offense sputtered an stalled. Sure, they hit some threes, but they had to take plenty of them too. The Rockets were 13-37 on the game, just 35 percent. Not bad, especially considering that they started off making 8-18 and padded the number with some two irrelevant ones late.
As if all that weren't enough, Jamal Crawford burst out of his shooting slump in a big way, scoring the Clippers first dozen points in the fourth quarter and finishing with a game high 30. After his 12 points on five shots in three minutes outburst, he then set the team record for chest bumps from the bench guys (who were all the starters at that moment) with five in less than eight seconds. Jamal's kind of a frail guy and I was a little worried that he was going to suffer an injury in the congratulatory gauntlet.
In addition to Crawford, the Clippers got nice contributions from a host of sources. Eric Bledsoe, again starting for Paul, went for 19 points, five assists, seven rebounds and two steals. He also had at least one block (and was called for a foul on a couple others where he seemed to get ball) but for some reason the box score doesn't reflect it. Matt Barnes put up 18 while making 3-6 three pointers, extending the team's record to 21-1 when he scores in double figures off the bench (or if you prefer, 19-0 when he scores 11 or more off the bench). Willie Green scored 15, including two three pointers and a old-fashioned three point play in quick succession in the third period when the Clippers broke the game open.
The Rockets seemed to have a specific strategy regarding Blake Griffin, who finished with 19 points. They started Patrick Patterson, though he had come off the bench in their last nine games, presumably to try to slow down Griffin. They then proceeded to poke and prod Griffin all night, going out of their way to give him a shove at every opportunity. Patterson picked up four fouls in 16 minutes, and when he went out Marcus Morris came in and continued the campaign, fouling Griffin off the ball twice in succession in the second quarter. The hands on approach, along with constant double teams, did result in six Griffin turnovers. Then again, he also led the team with eight assists, and made the Rockets pay at the line by making all five of his free throws.
It's tough to overstate the significance of two such road wins. Memphis owns wins over every major contender in the league -- except the Clippers -- and Houston had won six of their last seven at home, including a win over San Antonio. L.A.'s record against teams over .500 now stands at 17-6 -- easily the best record in the league. Their road record is 12-5, tied with OKC for best in the league. The suggestion that they'll suffer in the standings due to their road heavy January schedule holds less sway when you consider that their road winning percentage is better than the overall winning percentage of Miami or Memphis or indeed any team in the league other than the Thunder or Spurs or the Clippers themselves.
There is however some bad news in all of this winning. Blowing good teams out on the road without Chris Paul doesn't help CP3's MVP campaign, which would look a lot better if the Clippers suddenly became worthless without him in the lineup (as in fact was mostly the case last season). Dare I say that it gives a major boost to Vinny Del Negro's Coach of the Year campaign for his team to power through injuries without missing a beat.
The team now gets a day off before heading to Minnesota for a TNT game on Thursday. With an extra day of rest, it's possible that Paul will be ready to play against the Wolves. Then again, with the team doing just fine without him and half a season yet to come, there would not seem to be much incentive to rush Paul back. If I were VDN, I'd be tempted to rest him until they lost a game.
For the Houston perspective, be sure to check out The Dream Shake.