When you string together a bunch of wins in a row, you're bound to have a game like this one sprinkled in there somewhere. And given that the Clippers have been so good in the other six games of this streak - blowing out bottom feeders like the Lakers and the Pelicans (twice) while taking down top conference foes like the Rockets, Thunder and Suns in impressive fashion - I'm inclined to chalk this one up as an anomaly and give little attention to the outcome in the grand scheme of things. What's important is that the Clippers found a way to win and avoided losing any ground in an insanely competitive conference.
But boy was that a rough game. The Hawks matched every Clipper turnover with an airball, it seemed, and yet they still had a chance to tie the game in the final second with Jeff Teague at the line. Teague is an 83% free throw shooter, but he missed the one he was trying to make and made the one he was trying to miss, bailing the Clippers out of a game that they played poor enough to lose.
While the turnovers were bad - this was their 10th game this season with 18 or more turnovers - the thing I thought was most concerning was how easily the Hawks seem to breakdown the defense for most of the night. The Clippers have climbed to number eight in the league in defensive efficiency (per Hollinger's numbers), but this game was a stepback to their status at the beginning of the season when their rotations were slow and ineffective. The Hawks shot 50% from the floor and 44% from three, with 29 assists on their 38 field goals. While the Hawks do have a fairly anonymous squad that can surprise you when bigs like Pero Antic and Mike Scott start hitting threes, that's not excuse for the open looks they were allowed to get.
This was a very Spurs-like game from the Hawks, which is an obvious connection to make since Mike Budenholzer spent seven years on Pop's staff, but they were incredibly unselfish and made the most of the spacing their bigs provided, always having some kind of motion to go to if their primary and secondary actions failed to produce anything. Though the Hawks had 15 turnovers themselves, this seemed like a very disciplined performance, and with the Clippers off their A-game, it resulted in an exploited defense that gave up a ton of good looks to a team that can only survive under those circumstances.
But again, throughout any seven game stretch an off night is bound to happen, and the Clippers found a way to win on their off night, which gives them a seven-game winning streak heading into their rematch against the Suns on Monday. If the Clippers can tighten things up for the next couple of games, wins over the Suns and Warriors could give them the most impressive streak in the NBA this season. And if they do that, nobody will remember this little hiccup against the Hawks.
Some other thoughts:
- The "Blake Griffin shooting threes" experiment made its way into crunchtime tonight. It will be very interesting to see if he can expand his range like Chris Bosh has over next couple of years, but then again Bosh has always been a very natural shooter whereas Blake has just now become a reliable scorer from the mid-range. He's 11-of-38 on the season from deep.
- Granger played 15 minutes tonight and got up seven shots for seven points. I wouldn't be mad if that was the blueprint for him going forward. That seems like the ideal way to use him in order to maximize the bench's offensive production. Of course, this hinges on Granger resembling at least half the player the used to be over a prolonged period of time. I think we can all agree that if he plays his way into shape for the post-season, the Clippers will be incredibly hard to beat.
- Really nice game from Chris Paul tonight. 19 points, 10 dimes and what proved to be the game-winning lay-up. That steal on the attempted handoff by Antic in the first quarter, which led to the off-the-backboard oop to DeAndre, was filthy.
- Remember when Chris Paul and Dwight Howard were supposed to go the Hawks together?
- Fun game from Blake, too, but he wound up with seven turnovers, and this is only the second time in his career that has happened. He shot well, though, going 11-of-19 from the field for 27 points to go along with eight boards and five assists. Then again, he did miss two potentially game clinching free throws at the end, just as DJ made two to help closeout the Suns game, which opened the door for Teague to send the game into overtime. You know, kind of like Phil Forte :(.
- Jamal Crawford came off the bench in his return tonight but only played 10 minutes, sitting out the entire second half after his calf started acting up. If this is any kind of a setback, I wouldn't mind holding him out until he was 110% ready to return so that Doc has more time to play with his bench line-ups.
Sorry for the brevity tonight. I was having internet issues in my dorm. Will make up for it the next time.