Let's face it, beating the Timberwolves on the final game of their six game road trip is nothing to crow about. The Wolves must have been tired, they have the second worst record in the NBA and they are a terrible road team. But it was nonetheless impressive the way in which the Clippers won the game.
The Clippers have now won three in a row for the first time this season, but perhaps more important than the three straight is the fact that two of the three have been by 20+ points. Earlier in the season, the Clippers couldn't figure out how to even win against bad teams - until last week, they only had to wins against sub-.500 teams, both coming against Sacramento. Suddenly they've blown out two bad teams in a row. That to me is a very good sign.
The Clippers beat the Timberwolves intelligently and efficiently. They played solid, aggressive defense on Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, limiting Minnesota's top two scorers. Beasley scored 20, but was only 6 for 19 from the field; Love scored 12 on just 4 for 9 shooting. With their big guns under wraps, the Timberwolves were forced to take jump shots. Early in the game, the long jumpers were falling, and Minnesota was able to keep it close. But as Ralph and Mike astutely observed, the Clippers were getting much better shots from the very outset, and it was only a matter of time until that disparity was reflected on the scoreboard. Sure enough, after making 7 of 11 threes in the first half, they didn't make any in the second half, and the Clippers pulled away.
(Speaking of Ralph and Mike, is it my imagination or did Smith use an inordinate number of my preview tidbits in this broadcast? I tend to watch on the DVR and miss some of the banter, so maybe he cribs items every night, but I've never noticed quite so many references. He used three different bullets from my preview, almost verbatim. I may have to ask him for a little shout out if he's going to keep doing that.)
The Clippers had a massive rebounding advantage, 56 to 33. They assisted on 31 of 43 baskets. They shot 52% from the field, the third straight game they've been above 50%. They outscored Minnesota in the paint 62 to 28 (which is really a jaw dropping advantage). Even their brief lapses didn't hurt them. They had some sloppy possessions early in the fourth quarter, but continued to play good defense, and Minnesota wasn't able to cut into the lead even though the Clippers offense went stale for a bit. All in all, it was probably the team's most impressive game of the season.
Of course, Blake Griffin highlights are a fixture on SportsCenter every night, but he's also working on a greatest hits reel, and he added another one to it tonight. I saw him take off sprinting on this play, I saw him pointing to the rim, and I thought to myself "No way, don't do it."
When Baron threw the pass, I thought it was insane - not only was Corey Brewer in pretty good position to defend it, but Blake was on the dead run, going right down the center of the court, and Baron threw the pass from two steps into the backcourt. I'm 5'9" and can't jump, so it's not like any alley oop is easy for me, but it ain't easy for anyone to catch an alley oop coming in over their shoulder from that far away. Of course, he made it look easy, making all my worries seem petty in hindsight. He lives up to the old cliche about throwing the ball anywhere near the rim and he'll get it. Of course, it was also a great pass, but I can scarce believe that Baron had the chutzpah to throw it. Griffin was going so fast that his momentum swung his legs around the basket and up to rim level as he held onto the rim to protect himself after the monster jam. By the way, the score was tied at 51 before that play. The Clippers never trailed again, and outscored the Wolves 62-39 from that point. I guess maybe it got the team going a bit.
Eric Gordon, after three straight sub-20 games on the road trip, exploded for 21 in the first half and 36 in the game. He had his first breakout game from deep, making 5 of 7 threes, and basically made it look easy all night. 36 points in 37 minutes had to feel really good after all the defensive attention he's been getting. Gordon also had five steals, and it seems like many of them led to easy points (the Clippers scored 22 points off 13 Wolves turnovers).
Blake Griffin had his 16th consecutive double double with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and he also had 7 assists. Interestingly, it was not his best night by any means. He got almost all of his points on dunks and jumpers (he made three of four perimeter shots). He didn't really do much posting up - I don't think we saw the spin move or the jump hook all night. This is all an indication of how well the Clippers played as a team - there was a lot of movement of ball and bodies, and consequently very few isos for Griffin. Let's have more of that, please.
Baron had a dozen assists, a season high for him. And Baron's assists aren't simple passes around the perimeter for open jumpers. Oh sure, he gets a few of those. But the vast majority of Baron's assists lead to dunks and layups - I can think of three Griffin lobs, a Gordon dunk, a DeAndre Jordan dunk, and a couple Ryan Gomes layups tonight.
Speaking of Gomes, he scored a season-high 22, and recorded his first double double as a Clipper by adding 10 rebounds, also a season high. The biggest single difference in the Clippers during their three game win streak is that it is no longer the Griffin and Gordon show - other players are contributing. Tonight was only the fourth time this season that a Clipper other than Griffin or Gordon has scored over 20 points, and only the second time that the team has had three 20+ performances in the same game.
The Clippers can now look for their fourth straight win against Houston Wednesday night. The upcoming schedule is very favorable, at least from a travel standpoint - the Clippers don't leave the state of California for a month. With ten of their next twelve games at home, and the two road games being simple one game trips to Sacramento and Oakland, the Clippers have a real chance to string together some wins over the next four weeks.
If they keep playing like this, that's just what they'll do.
Bizarre Whistle of the Game: When Blake Griffin and Kevin Love got into to hand-to-hand combat under the Minnesota hoop, I had no idea what the refs were going to call. Watching the replay, there's really no way to know who fouled whom. When there's that much pushing, and each guy is engaged, how do you draw the line between legal and illegal? Given that the Clippers secured the defensive board, it's really a shame that Love was assessed his second personal on the play and had to go to the bench.
I think I would have preferred a no call on that play, especially since the Clippers had already gotten the rebound; again, it's far from clear that Love committed the foul, or rather that Griffin did not. They both gave as good as they got on the play. If the idea is to get them to clean it up, then maybe you assess a double foul there (which is a really bad solution in most cases, and in this case you're giving personals to the two guys that the fans came to see). Maybe you can just talk to them without assessing a foul. But I'll tell you this much - if a second foul were given to Griffin in a similar situation, I would not be happy about it, as I'm sure T-Wolves fans were not with this call.
[Note by Steve Perrin, 12/21/10 10:07 AM PST ] So, I thought they had only given Love a personal; turns out, they did indeed give a double foul on that play. Not a bad job by the refs, under the circumstances.