The Los Angeles Clippers picked up an important and valuable win in Minnesota tonight, outlasting the Timberwolves, 102-98. It was a strange game; it was a game of runs, a game of cold shooting, and a game of hot shooting. For the Wolves, they're just not going to win a whole lot of games when Kevin Love is 2-14 from the field. And although Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic combined for 48 points on 20-34 shooting, the rest of the team couldn't really buy a basket. For the Clippers, J.J. Redick was red-hot to start the game (and ice cold after), Blake Griffin didn't miss in the third quarter and Chris Paul scored 16 of 18 Clipper points during one stretch in the fourth, and that was enough to secure the win.
The Clippers opened the game on a 12-0 run with Redick scoring eight and assisting on the other four. But they let the Wolves back into the game almost immediately, and the quarter ended in a 24-24 tie. The Clippers opened the second quarter on an 11-0 run, but the Wolves went on a 22-4 run of their own to open up a seven point lead, before the half ended with the teams once again tied, 46 all.
The third quarter was the Griffin show, with Blake hitting all seven of his shots and scoring 14 of the Clippers 25 points, helping the Clippers take a four point lead into the fourth quarter. The second unit of Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford, Reggie Bullock and Ryan Hollins, playing with starter Jared Dudley, played much better tonight than they have, and they stretched the lead out to 11 with the first seven points of the fourth quarter. But as they did repeatedly in the game in L.A. the Wolves would come back, using an 11-3 run to cut the lead down to three.
At which point it became the Timberwolves versus Chris Paul, and Paul came out the winner. Although he had missed 21 of his last 24 three pointers, Paul got his personal run going by nailing a three. Over a stretch of five minutes, Paul made six of seven shots, including two three pointers and a conventional three point play. He scored 16 of the Clippers final 21 points in the game, 15 of 17 when the game was really on the line. His scoring outburst came at a historic moment -- he had just four points with a little over five minutes remaining in the game, and his streak of 11 consecutive points/assists double/doubles looked to be in jeopardy. Instead, he finished with 20 points to break Magic Johnson's record, becoming the first player to have double figures in both points and assists in 12 straight games to begin a season.
This was the tenth career meeting between Love and Griffin, and rarely have they been so one-sided. Although Love puts up bigger numbers in general, it is actually Griffin who has been the better scorer head-to-head, averaging 25 points per game to Love's 21 in their prior meetings. Love does own the rebounding edge as you might expect, with over 13 boards per game compared to about 10 for Griffin. But only one other time has one of them so dominated their personal dual: in February 2012 Griffin scored 30 points while Love was held to just 10. But for Griffin to outscore Love 20-12, while helping to hold him to 2-14 shooting, in the midst of an MVP-worthy season for Love, is a major accomplishment for Blake. Love did play his facilitator role very well, handing out eight assists, though he also committed five turnovers.
For Paul, we talked in the preview about his shooting woes, which absolutely continued through three quarters of this one. He was just 2-9 heading into the final period, continuing to miss the elbow jumpers and open threes that we expect him to make. Whether his torrid fourth quarter busts him out of his slump and he takes a hot hand into Oklahoma City tomorrow night remains to be seen. The Clippers certainly need that to happen.
The Wolves looked a bit like a tired team tonight, owing to the fact that they played last night in a far removed city. Sadly, that could be the Clippers tomorrow night, who left after the game to make their 800 mile trip to Oklahoma City where the Thunder are waiting. No one on the Clippers played huge minutes -- Griffin led the team with 38 minutes and Paul logged 35 -- but this is a very difficult back-to-back, and the Clippers will be sorely tested.
They're happy to have the first win of this very difficult trip. Will it have to suffice, or will they be able to come up with a big win in OKC as well?