After a heartbreaking loss Thursday night in Portland, the Clippers needed to right the ship, so to speak, against the worst team in the Western Conference. Now, while Utah's record says they're the worst team in the conference, they've actually played better since Trey Burke took the court for them and once Tyrone Corbin realized Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter can't play together. So what we got was something like a lot of Utah's previous few games; a tough battle with a scrappy team.
You could basically take the entire first half and throw it out the window. It was horrific basketball for the most part. The Clippers opened up the game by turning the ball over 5 times in the first quarter and shooting a woeful 7 of 21 (33%) which saw them put only 17 points up on the scoreboard by the time the buzzer sounded. The Jazz weren't much better since they turned the ball over 7 times and shot 5 of 13 (38.5%) but did get to the free throw line 10 times. They put up 20 points.
Now, as a side note, Blake Griffin got in early foul trouble again. Once again he picked up his second foul less than four minutes into the opening quarter and had to be removed from the game. But then Blake came back in the second quarter which is when our offense started to look a lot better. Funny how that works out, right? In that second quarter, the Clippers outscored the Jazz 25-23 thanks to 9 of 18 (50%) shooting while Utah went 9 of 21 (42.9%). Blake Griffin had 12 points and 4 rebounds in the second quarter alone.
In the second half, the pace picked up and so did the play of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The Clippers won the third quarter 26-22 thanks to 10 of 23 (43.5%) shooting and the winning of the rebound battle. In that quarter, Blake Griffin put up 8 points and 2 rebounds while Chris Paul put up 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. It looked like the Clippers were starting to take the Utah Jazz out to the curb for morning pickup.
And then it happened. The fourth quarter. The Utah Jazz just would not go away. They would not go quietly into that good night and they deserve a lot of respect. However, Blake Griffin seemingly took this game over in the final stanza. He scored 18 points on 5 of 6 shooting and 8 of 11 from the line. He was the go-to guy. It's what we've always wanted to see. But the game was still close and with it knotted at 90-90 with 2:33 to go, the team just simply muscled their way to the finish line.
The Clippers ended the game on an 8-0 run thanks to a Blake Griffin dunk to put the Clippers up 92-90, a Jamal Crawford three after a mad scramble, two Chris Paul free throws, and a free throw from Blake Griffin. It was refreshing to see the defense engaged in the final 2:33, as well. They looked nearly flawless on their rotations, spots, and boxing out. It was a great thing to see. It shows they've been learning. It's all a process.
The real story of the game, though, was Blake Griffin. As great as Chris Paul was tonight with his 21 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 5 steals, Blake Griffin stole the show. It's not every day you see a player put up 40 points and 10 rebounds. In fact, there's only been two players (and three instances) of a game like that season -- Kevin Love (twice) and Carmelo Anthony. He did, however, have 8 turnovers but he put the team on his back when they need him the most.
It didn't matter who the Utah Jazz tried to put on Blake Griffin. They threw Derrick Favors, Marvin Williams, and Enes Kanter at him tonight. It didn't matter who it was, though. Blake just bullied all of them through a myriad of moves, power and finesse, and looked sensational. Blake was 2 of 5 outside the paint tonight but went 11 of 15 inside of 8 feet. They couldn't stop him from getting to where he wanted. Blake had a date with the rim and wasn't trying to miss it. Oh, and Blake Griffin is now only the second player this season to have back-to-back games of 35+ points. The other is Damian Lillard.
It wasn't all puppies and candy canes, though. The team, as a whole, shot 21 of 39 inside of 8 feet. That means if you take out Blake Griffin's 11 of 15, the team went 10 of 24. That's pretty damn terrible. We also shot just 3 of 14 from three but one of those three happened to be Jamal Crawford's "dagger" three to put us up 5 with 2 minutes to go. But Jamal wasn't there tonight. He was only 4 of 16, including 2 of 7 from deep, and just looked out of the flow offensively. Granted, we survived that but we can't have Jamal doing that much more. We need him in Redick's absence.
It was sloppy, it was ugly, and it was perplexing. But it was a win. And a win is a win. Or so I'm told by other team's fans. On a night in which the rest of the team didn't really show up, our two superheros did enough to lead us out of the darkness and into the light. But now that light leads to the red hot Phoenix Suns. On Monday night, this squad will need a full team effort if we're going to cool them off and not get burned.
For the Jazz perspective on the game, be sure to check out SLC Dunk.