With this win, the Clippers are 2 games above .500 for the first time since Nov. 22. Minnesota lost in Oklahoma City, and Denver beat Portland, so the Clippers are 2 full games ahead of the T-Wolves and within percentage points of the 7th place Nuggets. Perhaps as important, they now have 7 road wins to stack against 8 home defeats - so at this moment in time, they are still below .500 by that metric despite being above .500 overall; by the end of this trip, those two things will be synced up, for better or for worse.
During the post game show, everyone was talking about 'watch out for the Clippers,' but hold on. Yes, they've won 9 of 12, but 10 of those games came against teams below .500, and a bunch of them came against teams that had no business being in the NBA. So let's not start talking too much about catching the Lakers and/or the Jazz. How's about we beat a team above .500 on the road first.
Still, there are some encouraging signs. For the second straight game, the Clippers depth provided the safeguard it's supposed to, with players stepping up to have good games for others who were sub-par. Four Clippers scored 17 or more (Thomas 17, Maggette 19, Mobley 20 and Brand 26), and Cassell had 13 in 23 minutes. Livingston was 0 for 4, but did a terrific job running the offense and on defense (he had 3 steals of the 'wow that dude's got long arms' variety). In fact, because Thomas, Maggette, Brand and Mobley were all scoring well, Shaun was able to play the pure distributor in the fourth, and Cassell never got off the bench the last 12 minutes. I've always said that Cassell should be the closer, but I'll just say it's great to have options. And when the other guys are scoring, Sam can rest his 37 year old body. That's really important on a 7 game trip.
Of course the dark side of 'guys stepping up' is the reason they had to step up. Chris Kaman had his second straight sub par game, though in his defense, he actually played OK. He had a horrible time guarding Al Jefferson in the third quarter, and only scored 4 points - but he didn't turn the ball over, which is a good sign. Quinton Ross did not look good, but in the absence of a big time scorer for him to stop, MDSr simply didn't play him in the second half.
It was a concern that the Clippers allowed them to hang around, taking a 4 point lead in the 3rd quarter and maintaining a 2 point lead going into the 4th. But if I'm going to criticize the Clippers for playing poorly in all-critical fourth quarters, I need to praise them when they play well. And that they did, winning the fourth by 13 points. The defense in the third was not good, but the Celtics also made some tough shots. At any rate, the defense really stepped up in the fourth.
What is up with Tim Thomas? For the second straight game he came up big. Sure, his 17 points in the second half were huge, particularly the 7 straight to take the lead in the fourth. But how about two steals and drawing a charge? He drew a charge, on a really good help defense play. I did not see that coming.
Also for the second game in a row, Corey Maggette put up otherworldly efficiency numbers. After scoring 15 points on 4 shots on Wednesday, he scored 19 points on 6 shots tonight. That's over 3 points per shot in each of his last two games. This is why Corey's shooting percentage is not a problem. If you do the math on tonight's game, he was 2 for 6 from the field. But he was 15 for 17 from the line. Until the final minutes when Boston starting fouling intentionally, every foul Corey drew was a shooting foul. So subtract the last 4 free throws, add the add-one, and it's close to 6 for 6 on those shots - we'll call it 5.5 for 6 at Corey's current FT percentage. Suddenly 2 for 6 becomes 7.5 for 12. His jump shot currently looks awful, but he has to take a few to keep the defense honest; of course they'd be even more honest if he made a few. If he ever starts hitting the J, he'll be truly scary.
And then there's Elton Brand. Poor guy. He was 9 for 17 Wednesday and 11 for 21 today, and each time his shooting percentage suffered! That's a nice problem to have. In addition to his game high 26 points, he had a season-high 19 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Maybe he is feeling a little chippy about the ASG.
So it's on to Toronto after a solid start to the road trip. If nothing else, the Clippers should be motivated against the Raptors after an embarrassing home loss in December.