There were two heroes for the Los Angeles Clippers in their 101-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets Saturday night, one you would expect and one you might not. With less than a minute remaining and the Clippers clinging to a two point lead in a game they had trailed most of the evening, Jamal Crawford made the play of the game -- on the defensive end. Crawford is one of the most talented scorers in the league and not known at all for his defense (though he is better than people give him credit for), but as the Nets were getting into their set, Crawford shot the passing lane to step in front of Gerald Wallace and steal Deron Williams somewhat lazy wing pass. Crawford took the ball the length of the floor for a two-handed jam to give the Clippers a four point lead with just 48 seconds remaining in the game.
But the Clippers weren't out of the woods yet. A quick bucket from Joe Johnson brought Brooklyn back to within a basket with 41 seconds left, meaning the Nets needed just one stop to give themselves a chance to tie or take the lead. The Clippers ran a center pick and roll, which was by far their most productive set all night, and Paul got into the lane. As he rose to shoot, three Nets descended on him, and Williams fouled him. Amazingly, Paul lost control of the ball as he was fouled, gathered it back from his left hand to his right hand, and still managed to make the shot. The old-fashioned three point play gave the Clippers a five point lead and all they had to do the rest of the way was make their free throws.
The Clippers survived a sub-par game from Blake Griffin, who was mostly stymied by his old teammate Reggie Evans. Evans mostly kept Griffin away from the rim, holding him to 11 points on 4-11 shooting and forcing him into four turnovers. But while Griffin struggled, DeAndre Jordan thrived. Jordan was 6-6 and finished with a 13/12 double-double, swatting away three shots for good measure. And while we're more or less accustomed to Jordan shooting a high percentage on exclusively dunks, he actually made four or five basketball plays in this game, making moves in the post and tough put backs around the rim.
Paul finished with 29 points and 11 assists, one of his best games of the season statistically. As is often the case, he did most of his damage in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 29 points including nine straight free throws. It's no coincidence that the Clippers turned a five point deficit heading into the quarter into a six point win, winning the quarter 31-20 over the Nets.
If you think about it, the Clippers haven't had many of these types of games this season. Very frequently they've built huge leads and coasted in the fourth quarter, playing the second unit the majority or even all of the minutes. And unfortunately, on several occasions when they've needed heroics in the final minutes to pull out a win, they've come up short. In games decided by three or fewer points this season, the Clippers are just 2-3. Last season it seemed like Paul was pulling out miraculous shots in the final minutes at least once a week. It's nice that the Clippers haven't needed it much this season -- but it's also nice to know that it's still there if they do need it going forward or in the playoffs.
Had the Clippers not won, they might have had their own official time keeper to blame after a bizarre turn of events midway through the fourth quarter. The Clippers had just taken a four point lead and had the ball looking to add to it. A near steal by C.J. Watson wound up with the ball going out of bounds to the Clippers, and the officiating crew had to make sure the shot clock was correctly set. It's hard to know exactly what transpired, but I feel fairly certain that Danny Crawford told the timer to put six seconds on the shot clock. Instead, he originally put 16 on the clock, and all of the Clippers saw the clock at that point. But on the replay you can see Crawford motioning to the scorer's table, and directly before the officials give the ball to the Clippers for their inbounds play, the clock switches down to six seconds. Matt Barnes receives the inbounds pass still believing they have 16 seconds to run a play, takes a couple of leisurely dribbles and passes the ball to Paul, who calmly checks the clock and sees that there are only two seconds on it. He's forced into a desperation three point attempt that misses everything resulting in a shot clock violation. Six seconds is plenty of time to get a shot, if you know that you have six seconds. Clearly the communication broke down somewhere -- one presumes for instance that the officiating crew would inform the coaches of how much time they were putting on the clock, but Vinny Del Negro seemed as surprised as anyone. In the end, their own timekeeper pulled a 16-6 bait and switch on the Clippers that directly resulted in a turnover at a crucial juncture of the game. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. At least it didn't cost them the game in the end.
Both Memphis and Denver won as well, so the Clippers needed this win to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. The three teams remain tied in the loss column, with Denver a half game ahead of the Clippers and Memphis a half game back. However the Grizzlies got some bad injury news today as Marc Gasol apparently has an abdominal strain which they say will sideline him "indefinitely." That could be a huge break for the Clippers down the stretch.
The win, their 48th, also sets a single season wins record for the Clippers in California. The 2005-2006 Clippers of Sam Cassell and Elton Brand won 47 records, but this is the most by any team in the west coast history of the club -- and their are still a dozen games left to play. Their next win will tie the franchise mark of 49 wins and one more win after that will mark the first 50 win season in franchise history.
The next four games come in a tough five night road trip that starts Tuesday in Dallas. Playoff positioning and franchise records will all be on the line. For the first time in March, the Clippers have put back-to-back wins together -- we'll see if they can keep the streak going on the road.
For the Brooklyn perspective, visit Nets Daily.
|San Antonio Spurs||69||53-16||.768|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||70||51-19||.729|
|Los Angeles Clippers||70||48-22||.686|
|Golden State Warriors||71||40-31||.563|
|Los Angeles Lakers||70||36-34||.514|
|Portland Trail Blazers||69||33-36||.478|
|New Orleans Hornets||70||24-46||.343|