USA TODAY Sports
In a lackadaisical and inelegant game, the Clippers overwhelmed the short-handed Knicks to take a full game lead for third place in the Western Conference standings.
About the best thing I can say about Sunday's game between the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks is that I'm glad it's over and that the Clippers came away with a win. Playing without $44M in front court salaries (Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire were all out with knee injuries) the Knicks didn't figure to have much of a chance. Indeed, after an 8-1 start for New York, it was all downhill from there. But the Clippers were far from impressive on their way to a 93-80 win.
No one on the Clippers had a particularly good game, though no one really had a terrible game either. Blake Griffin had a 12-12 double double, but made only two shots that were not dunks. Chris Paul had 20 points and eight assists. Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford joined them in double figures. The Clippers killed New York on the boards, 51-39, and held them to 36% shooting overall.
But the Clippers lacked energy most of the game, only coming to life for a few sequences in the third quarter. These afternoon tips always tend to be a little funky, and squaring off against a Knicks starting lineup that featured Kurt Thomas, Chris Copeland, Kenyon Martin and Iman Shumpert, I guess it's understandable that neither the Clippers nor the crowd seemed particularly pumped. But the rules required that the game be played, and at least the Clippers got the result they needed.
It's a good thing that they led the whole way after taking their first lead with three minutes left in the first quarter, because the Clippers would have certainly rued losing a game in which Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined to miss all nine of their free throw attempts. Or in which they turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, most of them unforced. Or in which they allowed the Knicks to make a dozen three pointers, knowing full well that three point shooting was the only thing New York had coming into the game.
You had to feel a little sorry for Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, broadcasting the game to a national TV audience. Aside from a few highlight reel dunks, there wasn't much to talk about. The Knicks had essentially no chance, which everyone knew, but the Clippers weren't particularly praiseworthy either. Van Gundy was reduced to just ranting, without much basketball talk mixed in. JVG's rants can be fun -- but when that's all there is, it gets old really fast. Really Jeff? Hitting the backboard on a free throw should be a violation? And by the way, I'm not sure you can be old-school and new school at the same time. Can you really rail against hard fouls being ruled flagrants and also rail against defenders not allowing jump shooters to land cleanly? I know that back in the day people gave hard fouls all the time -- but back in the day it wasn't a foul to crowd a jump shooter's landing either.
The win moves the Clippers a full game clear of Memphis and Denver in the Western Conference standings. With 46 wins on the season, they are one win away from equaling their highest win total in their California history. With 15 games left on the season, the Clippers will clearly set the franchise record for wins and will record the first 50 win season in franchise history. But the more pressing matter right now is the playoff race. Finishing third means avoiding the Nuggets and the Grizzlies, two very frightening and scorching hot teams, in the first round of the playoffs. Fourth means hosting a first round series against one of those opponents. Fifth means going the road to face them. In other words, each spot in the playoffs, and therefore each win, is crucial.
They got that crucial win today, but they'll have to play much better than this to get enough to maintain the three spot.
For the Knicks point of view, visit Posting and Toasting.