In their first home game without star point guard Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers needed to establish that they could still be a force in the Western Conference for the next six weeks. And boy did they. Everything was falling for the home team -- even the season ticket holder in the Chumash Casino contest during a timeout in the second quarter made his three pointer.
The Clippers, as I've pointed out many times have really struggled from the perimeter at times this season. But when the shots are falling, things start looking very good, very quickly. Orlando took a brief 3-2 lead in the first minute on a Jameer Nelson three, but when Darren Collison answered with a three of his one 15 seconds later, the Clippers regained the lead, and never trailed again.
Collison's three ignited a run of 18 straight for the Clippers that put them firmly in control, which is exactly what they needed in this post-Paul phase. With a 4-8 first quarter from deep (even Antawn Jamison made a three, and he hadn't made anything in weeks) the Clippers doubled up the Magic 36-18 by the break. The Clippers cooled off considerably from deep and finished the game 11-31, but the solid start was helpful in establishing their dominance early.
Amazingly, the Clippers dominated the entire game despite the fact that Blake Griffin played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble in the first half and garbage time in the second half. Despite the limited minutes, Griffin still managed to put up some impressive numbers, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists.and three steals.
It was not a thing of beauty throughout by any means. All the shots that were falling early began clanging midway through the second quarter. But the Clippers defense and rebounding was consistently terrific, so it didn't matter. The Clippers went through a drought of over five minutes without a point in the second -- but they managed to maintain a lead of at least 16 until the shots starting falling again. And we'll just ignore the fourth quarter, which brought new levels to the term 'garbage time.'
Perhaps DeAndre Jordan was holding a bit of a grudge from the last game, when Nikola Vucevic hung 30 points and 21 rebounds on the Clippers, because Jordan was far and away the best center out there in this one. Jordan finished the game with 14 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Vucevic? He had two points. With Kevin Love only collecting seven boards in the Wovles game, Jordan is once again the leading rebounder in the NBA.
And how did Collison do in his first start in STAPLES Center? He did OK, I guess. He went 8-8 for 19 points in the first half, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and four steals in 36 minutes. CP Who? The Clippers took a 30 point lead into the fourth quarter, which seemed like a great opportunity to play the newly signed Darius Morris and get his feet wet. But when Orlando opened the quarter with a 16-2 run to cut the lead to 16, Doc Rivers was forced to bring his starters back to restore order, which probably displeased him greatly. Morris still managed to play seven minutes and make a free throw in his debut with the team.
There was a major Lob City uprising in this game, as if the rest of the Clippers were saying "Hey, we can attack the rim even without CP3." Jordan posterized Big Baby Davis in the first quarter, as Davis foolishly challenged him at the rim -- and lost.
In the second quarter a long rebound gathered by Jamal Crawford resulted in a Griffin windmill dunk 80 feet away -- without a single dribble, as Crawford kicked the ball ahead to Matt Barnes who immediately lobbed to Griffin. The official play-by-play says it took three seconds, but felt even faster than that.
It was a tad reminiscent of the classic Rooks-to--Odom-to-Miles play from
2003 2001 -- which may be my favorite Clipper play off all time.
If the Spurs game was as bad as it could get with Paul, this was about as good. Then again, the Spurs weren't going to win in San Antonio on the second game of a back-to-back with the Spurs hyper-motivated to avenge the loss in L.A. with or without Paul, so this was the first game they really needed to win. Hopefully they can keep it going Wednesday against Boston.