The Los Angeles Clippers posted their third straight double digit victory with a 108-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Clippers never trailed after the first quarter, and maintained a safe lead for most of the second half. It is the first time this season the Clippers have won three straight by double digits, and that's feels about right. The team has played their best sustained basketball over the last week.
I've spoken extensively about the Clippers' need to make shots in order to win games, and the starting backcourt of Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford was just 6-27 -- but as opposed to other games where every perimeter player was cold, other players managed to make enough shots to keep the lead safe. Jared Dudley scored 20 point on 7-11 shooting and 4-6 three point shooting and Willie Green hit two three pointers. Even Blake Griffin got into the three point act, making two corner threes tonight.
Griffin had a a very good game, with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. However he was limited to about 12 minutes in the second half -- and just two minutes in the fourth quarter -- by foul trouble before fouling out. The fact that the Clippers won easily in a game in which Paul was mediocre and Griffin was limited to 12 minutes in the second half says something very positive about where they are. I don't know that they could have done that last season.
As good as Griffin and Dudley were, DeAndre Jordan was the star tonight. He had 14 points, making all six of his shots, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots. He seemed to challenge every shot, he was a constant factor on defense, and he went after every rebound. It was the exact type of game the Clippers want to get from Jordan. He doesn't need to score big, but if he can finish around the basket, he'll almost always pick up double figures in points just being active. The Clippers even went to him once tonight -- when Al-Farouq Aminu got caught mis-matched against him on a switch in the second quarter -- and Jordan did exactly what he needed to do, overpoweing AFA for the two-handed stuff.
Doc Rivers couldn't say enough good things about Jordan after the game. "I thought DJ single handedly kept us in it with his defense and rebounding in the first half. He's embraced it and he's become a star in his role."
Anthony Davis returned to the lineup for New Orleans tonight and responded with 24 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. He was a little rusty -- he had some trouble handling the ball at times and also picked up some silly fouls -- but the guy is a major force. There was one sequence though were Griffin seemed to decide that he wasn't quite ready to give up the "power forward of the future" mantle just yet, as he blocked Davis' shot and then outfought him for a rebound seconds later.
With Ryan Anderson playing the four for the Pelicans but never wandering into the paint, the Clippers played small whenever Jordan or Griffin left the game. Stephen Jackson and Jared Dudley both played plenty of four, and both of them did a great job running Anderson off of his shots. This was the first game since Rivers took Antawn Jamison out of mothballs that Jamison did not get into a game. Was that just a function of the style of the opponent, or a sign of things to come? Jackson in particular has been very good defensively and it seems like Rivers is comfortable allowing him to play the four with the second unit. In fact, the way Jackson has been playing defense, it seems like he's going to give the Clippers a very difficult decision if they ever need another roster spot. (Jackson's shot is a totally different story -- he hit the side of the backboard with a baseline jumper tonight -- but hopefully it will come back eventually.)
The Clippers seem to be getting into a good groove right now. The second unit is being effective based mostly on defense and energy. Darren Collison got to the foul line nine times tonight just relentlessly attacking, even when there was very little there. The first unit has a ton of talent and is playing much better defense than they did at the beginning of the season. Having Dudley hitting shots is making a world of difference. With two more home games this weekend (against good but very beatable teams in Denver and Minnesota) the Clippers have a chance to really build some nice momentum.