I re-watched the Clippers win over the Timberwolves today and left with the same impression as the first time. Aside from three brief sequences where they blitzed the Wolves, it was a sloppy, lackluster effort from the team. Now, some teams work this way. They go on runs that create the separation in the game, and the Clippers are very much that sort of team. But at the same time, the lack of sustained focus in the majority of this game is a bit of a concern. It certainly won't work against the Grizzlies Saturday or in the postseason.
The final margin of victory in the game was 16. The final minutes of garbage time saw six points shaved off the margin, but then again, basically the entire fourth quarter was a mess. The Clippers had three distinct runs in the game -- they opened 8-0 in the first three minutes, went on a 7-0 run in the final minute of the first half, and closed the third quarter on a 9-0 run over the final three minutes. That's 24-0 over the course of seven minutes of basketball. Which leaves the Timberwolves winning the other 41 minutes by eight points.
Now, it's of course unfair to criticize the Clippers too harshly for "losing" those 41 minutes. After all, those seven minutes of dominant basketball obviously count as well, and it's difficult to maintain the same level of focus all the time. As much as we'd like it if the team would play with the same intensity when they're up 20, the fact is they don't, and neither do other teams. But still -- it was tough to watch that game without feeling like the Clippers were allowing a lesser opponent to hang around far too long.
The turnovers in particular were a big problem. With Denver's win over a shorthanded San Antonio team last night, it's a virtual certainty that the Clippers will face the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs in a little over a week -- though the location of the first game is still very much in the air. The Grizzlies thrive on turnovers, and there is no way the Clippers can turn the ball over 20 times against Memphis and win. The spate of offensive fouls from last night should be relatively easy to clean up -- but there were plenty of live ball turnovers as well.
Still there was plenty to like about the Clippers performance:
- DeAndre Jordan got the team off to their dream 8-0 start, scoring the games first bucket just seconds in and then blocking two shots on Minnesota's first possession to force a shot clock violation. He finished with 10 points on 5-6 shooting and five blocks.
- Griffin had his second straight strong game, providing additional evidence that his recent slump was directly related to his bruised calf. A light recent game schedule and the passage of time have allowed the calf to improve, and Griffin is suddenly looking like Griffin again. This is very good news as the team heads towards the postseason.
- Chris Paul was simply amazing, with 19 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks on 7-11 shooting while committing one turnover. Put it this way -- if Paul is on your fantasy team, you were very happy last night. And don't think Paul didn't know that Ricky Rubio was breathing down his neck for the steals crown this season. Four steals to one for Rubio gives CP3 a little breathing room with four games left.
- Lamar Odom had a very productive 18 minutes, with 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. If only the guy could re-discover his offense, or even make a free throw. Basically, he's doing everything else, from rebounding to passing to defense, great. But he is still far too hesitant to shoot.
- Willie Green is playing so well, it's almost worrisome that Chauncey Billups will be back soon. Green tied his season-high of 15 for the second time in three games, and made all three of his three pointers. In the 10 games since Billups' groin injury, Green has scored in double figures five times and made 17-26 threes. Wow.
- The Clippers had seven players score between 10 and 19 points, including all five starters. Jamal Crawford was off, missing several wide open threes, but was apparently a big under the weather. With Crawford missing eight of 12 shots the second unit was understandably a bit shaky -- but Crawford was certainly getting good looks.
- Each win of course adds to the Clippers best win total ever, now up to 52. Last night's win also assured the team of its best home record in franchise history. They are currently 31-9 with one game left next Tuesday against Portland. That gives them the trifecta this season -- best overall record, best road record, and best home record.
- This was the Clippers third consecutive double digit win. You have to go back to before the All Star break for the last time the Clippers won three straight by double digits.
- For me, the measure of a contender has always been winning two-thirds of your games. The Clippers were above that mark for most of the season (far above it at times), but had dropped below it for the first time since early December during their recent three game losing streak. Last night's win puts them back at 52-26, with four games remaining. By the way, I predicted that the team would go 55-27 this year, a mark they can beat if they win out.