The Los Angeles Clippers took the court Monday night without All-Star power forward Blake Griffin and had to go up against All-Star power forward Kevin Love and his Minnesota Timberwolves. With all the injuries that the Clippers took with them into this game, most people probably thought Minnesota would have won this game. But the Clippers displayed a ton of heart, determination, and teamwork which ultimately won them this game.
The entire first half of this game was played in an extremely tight window. Neither team held a lead of greater than 5 points at any point during the opening 24 minutes. The Clippers led Minnesota, 54-51, at the end of the first half thanks in large part to Chris Paul. His 14 points and 5 assists paced the offense and kept them chugging along despite the absence of Blake Griffin.
The third quarter appeared to be heading much in the same way as the first half. The Clippers and Timberwolves were exchanging body blow after body blow, looking for any edge that they could get until about 7:50 to go in the quarter. Ricky Rubio hit a three to cut the Clippers lead down to 63-62. And then the Clippers went on a 25-4 run to end the quarter which stretched their lead out to 22 points and basically put a kibosh on the whole game.
During the 25-4 run in the third quarter, the Clippers made 7 shots inside of the Restricted Area and also hit 3 threes. The only shot that wasn't a three or inside of the Restricted Area during that entire run was a Jared Dudley 20-footer. It was really a testament to how smart the Clippers started to play on offense. After getting stops on defense, they were getting easy shots on offense and making Minnesota bend to their will. The run was so long and so profound that Rick Adelman took three separate timeouts to try and stop the bleeding. It didn't work.
The fourth quarter featured a valiant effort by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and their rag tag group of bench buddies, to try and erase the deficit that the starters had bestowed upon them. They did their best and even got it down to a respectable range with 1:30 to go. They were down by 8 but got done in by a DeAndre Jordan offensive rebound that led to a pair of Darren Collison free throws which iced the game. Adelman had his guys foul a little more but the damage had already been done. The Clippers made all 6 free throws in the final 45 seconds and cruised to the finish line.
In place of Blake Griffin tonight, Doc Rivers decided to give the starting power forward nod to Jared Dudley. And he responded by playing an extremely well-rounded game. In the prior five games he saw action in, Jared Dudley had only seen 41 total minutes. Tonight he got 35 and all 35 were good, quality minutes. Dudley provided adequate defense on Kevin Love and was one of the main reasons Love only shot 8 of 21 in this game. Dudley also chipped in with 16 points of his own, 4 rebounds, and even 3 assists.
The other "big" on the floor, DeAndre Jordan, put up a career high in rebounds with 24 and even put in 11 points of his own while chipping in with 4 blocks. DeAndre could have had more points tonight but he was only 3 of 8 from the free throw line. His effort defensively tonight wasn't overlooked, either. Jordan was altering shots around the rim and kept the Minnesota cutters, and Kevin Love, from getting easy looks. It was a good game from him.
Matt Barnes went 7 of 14 and had a few nice plays but his love affair with the three-point shot is becoming problematic. Over the last 8 games, he's taken 53 threes but only made 17 of them (32.1%). While the 32.1% is not far off from his career three-point mark of 33.4%, it's still something that perplexes me. If you know you're not a great three-point shooter then why keep shooting them unless they're high quality shots -- i.e. either from the corner or wide open in catch-and-shoot situations. Quite often he takes threes with a defender in his face in non-late shot clock situations. It makes you wonder. Plus, his defense is nowhere near where it was last year.
Darren Collison chipped in with a game-high 28 points and also had 7 assists but he did have 6 turnovers. It was still a really nice game from him and you can see how much he means to this team. Defensively, he's not amazing by any means but he's also not bad. He understands the concepts that Doc Rivers is implementing and makes it work for him. Then there's the offense. He's a blur in the open court, can finish around the rim through traffic, and his shot is right up there. We'd possibly be lost without Darren Collison and his invaluable contributions.
But, as far as the Game Ball goes, Chris Paul gets it. Christopher Emmanuel Paul III is just sensational in every sense of the word. He finished with 22 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. He was everywhere and took Ricky Rubio to school. It wasn't a masterful performance through and through but it was one of those games where you saw what Chris Paul can do when he's locked in. Perhaps, and this is just a thought, that 0 of 12 game in New Orleans was the best thing to happen to Chris Paul this season. It seemed to have got his mind right and made him get back into the groove.
The other choice would have been Jared Dudley, for reasons noted a few paragraphs above, but I felt Chris Paul controlled more of the game. However, let's not mince words here. Doc Rivers needed a great game out of Jared Dudley tonight and he got it. Doc, if he didn't like what he saw, would have played Glen Davis more than just 3:34 tonight. But he loved what he saw and we all should have loved it, as well. It seems quite odd to say this but it was true tonight; Jared Dudley outplayed Kevin Love. Not on the stat sheet, where Love finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but on the court, where Dudley got the better of him on both ends.
The Clippers now find themselves 3-1 on this 5-game road trip after starting it off with that gut-wrenching loss in New Orleans. Their three wins since then came against the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, and Minnesota Timberwolves. All three, going into play tonight, were .500 or better. The last two wins, for the most part, came without the help of Blake Griffin.
Now the Clippers embark on a journey to Phoenix, where they'll play the Suns on Wednesday night. It's entirely plausible that around 8:00 PM Pacific Time, just before halftime of the game in Phoenix, that the Los Angeles Clippers could be the 2013-2014 Pacific Division Champions without having to have finished their game. How? The Magic Number to clinch the division is 2. The Golden State Warriors play on the road against the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night and then play the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. With the way both of those teams have been playing, it's definitely possible Golden State could lose both games. So, buckle up. The Clippers could, very likely, be a few days away from being back-to-back Pacific Division Champions.
Stat of the Night: DeAndre Jordan had 25 rebound chances tonight. He got 24 rebounds in those 25 chances.
Secondary Stat of the Night: Clippers shot better on contested field goals (54.8%) than on uncontested field goals (44.7%).