When the NBA schedule first came out, it was immediately evident that the month of December was pretty soft for the Los Angeles Clippers. Over the course of an 82 game season, every team plays more or less the same schedule, but within that there are easier or more difficult stretches. The Clippers started the season with one of the toughest schedules in the league -- but that tough beginning was followed by a much easier December.
Back on December 3, I took a close look at the December schedule and decided to get greedy. I decided that the Clippers should/would be favored in at least 15 of the 16 games during the month, but even so, I didn't imagine that they would run the table. Here's what I said in the conclusion of that post:
The Clippers will not go 16-0 between now and New Years Day -- those types of runs are incredibly rare in the NBA and there's no reason to think that it will happen here. But they can a should win a LOT of games.... What's realistic? 13-3? 14-2? They need to get on a roll and win a bunch or it could come back to haunt them.
Well guess what? I was wrong. They did go 16-0, only the third time in NBA history that any team has done so in a calendar month. The other two teams to do it were the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971 (as part of their NBA record 33 game winning streak) and the San Antonio Spurs in 1996 (a team featuring a guard named Vinny Del Negro in its starting lineup).
The Utah Jazz were the Clippers final December victim, and also became the first team to lose three games to the Clippers during their now 17 game winning streak. But although the final margin was 11, the Jazz did not make things easy on the Clippers. A red hot stretch of shooting in the third quarter and a nearly unstoppable Al Jefferson completely erased a nine point Clipper lead as Utah took a 76-75 lead on the strength of a 17-4 run. But to their credit, the Clippers scored the final four points of the third to regain the lead and never trailed again.
The Clippers were led by a scorching hot Caron Butler, who scored 29 points in 25 minutes on just 14 shots. Butler made all six of his three pointers and scored 17 points in the first quarter and 12 more in the third quarter. But this is how deep the Clippers are -- even though Butler was in a zone, he barely played in the second quarter and didn't play at all in the fourth.
The Clippers depth came in handy as well when Blake Griffin picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. Griffin finished with one of his least impressive lines of the season -- seven points, seven rebounds, three assists on just 26 minutes -- but it didn't much matter. DeAndre Jordan had a very good game and Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf provided great support off the bench.
It wasn't the Clippers most impressive win of the streak, but it was illustrative of their strengths. When Utah came back in the third quarter, it was the Clippers defense that turned the momentum back in their favor. Jamal Crawford led the bench scorers with 19 points and three assists. Chris Paul did his usual magnificent job running the team, and finished with 19 points, nine assists and five steals, adding to his league-best total. Toss in Butler's 29 and a win was almost inevitable. It's also worth noting that Jordan made five of six fourth quarter free throws, with four of those coming off of intentional fouls.
With December in the books, things will get much tougher for the Clippers in January. They open with a bang, in Denver where the Nuggets are 9-1 and then face the Warriors on the road the very next night. But for now it's time to savor the 17 straight and the perfect December. At the close of 2012, the Clippers are 25-6, the best record in the NBA. How long can they keep the streak alive in 2013? We'll find out soon enough.
For the Utah perspective visit SLC Dunk.