Well it's come to this. The Los Angeles Clippers, owners of the longest winning streak in the NBA right now at 13 games, establishing new all time franchise marks with every game, were able to make their domination of the Phoenix Suns look routine and even a bit boring. The Suns, who had won 10 straight over the Clippers in Phoenix, who owned a 108-53 record all time against the Clippers since they moved to California, were embarrassed by the Clippers in their own building.
Not only was it the first win in Phoenix for the Clippers in over five years -- it was also the largest margin of victory for the Clippers in Phoenix ever. Not only did the win extend their franchise best winning streak to 13, but it was also the first time in franchise history that the team has won six straight on the road. The records just keep falling.
The game didn't start off as if it was going to be a Clippers romp. A masterful first quarter from Chris Paul put the Clippers in the lead, but Phoenix seemed destined to hang around. Truth be told, the Clippers defense through the first 19 minutes or so was less than intense. But with the Clippers leading just 43-40 and five minutes remaining in the first half, Paul and Blake Griffin re-entered the contest for L.A. and it became a laugher from that moment. By the start of the fourth quarter, the score was 91-60, a 31 point Clippers lead after a 48-20 stretch of 17 minutes of basketball. Most of the damage was done on the defensive end -- the Clippers had 12 steals and also forced two 24 second clock violations. Griffin matched his career high with four steals (a mark he set when the Clippers played the Suns to weeks ago) as part of his 23 point, 11 rebounds night. He also marked his career best night from the free throw line, making six without a miss.
With the game well in hand, the fourth quarter was reduced to extended garbage time with the Clippers starters getting the rest of the night off -- which could come in handy with all the back-to-backs the team will be playing in the next couple of weeks.
The plus/minus numbers are pretty remarkable for some of the Clippers. Paul was +32 in 29 minutes of action. Griffin posted a +33 in 32 minutes. Reserves Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford were +30 and +23 respectively in 24 minutes each and Lamar Odom was an astounding +32 in just 14 minutes (his time was limited by a tweaked ankle). In fact, this is one of those games where you feel sorry for the reserves on mop up duty -- this games hurt their season stats, but there was really no reason to play hard in the fourth quarter, which got understandably sloppy. For Barnes he extended his impressive recent run and the Clippers improved to 15-0 in games in which he has scored in double figures off the bench.
There were two significant developments in the game from my perspective. The first was that Crawford returned to form in a big way. It's actually been quite interesting that the Clippers have been on this incredible winning streak without Crawford playing anywhere close to the same level at which he started the season. In the eight games prior to this one, he'd been in a downright slump, shooting under 35 percent from the field and just 25 percent from three. In win number 13 he had 22 points on 8-12 shooting while making three three pointers. The only thing he did wrong was miss a pair of technical free throws in the second quarter.
The other thing I found particularly interesting is that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro gave Willie Green and Caron Butler the final six plus minutes of garbage time duty. It's been clear that Crawford and Barnes have been the closers for Del Negro for a while now -- but he's also generally left them on the floor for the end of games that have been decided. Tonight he actually decided to save his top group, asking starters Green and Butler to go back out and mop up. The team is extraordinarily close and Green and Butler are pros. For Green it's not really an issue since he knows he's a placeholder for Chauncey Billups in the starting lineup at any rate. But one does wonder what Butler might think about playing meaningless minutes at the end of the game while his backup is resting. Caron's a pro's pro so he's going to do what the coach asks him to do.
The Clippers have clearly benefited from a very soft stretch in their schedule in putting together this record breaking winning streak. But they've also won convincingly on the road against teams that are at least supposed to be competitive like Milwaukee and Phoenix. The 26 point win just adds to their league-best average margin of victory. They are now just a half game behind Oklahoma City for the best record in the NBA, with the Thunder heading into Miami Christmas Day for a rematch with the NBA champions. By the time the Clippers take the STAPLES Center court Christmas night at 7:30, the could be tied with the Thunder for the best record and could be alone atop the league by the end of their game with Denver.
And what a Merry Christmas that would be in Clips Nation.
For the Phoenix perspective be sure to visit Bright Side of the Sun.