That was a great win for the Los Angeles Clippers yesterday, and a great recap by Lucas Hann. I can't resist adding my two cents as well in what was easily the Clippers best win over the season: on the road, against a good team, and most importantly -- behind a strong defensive performance!
J.J. Redick. Lucas said it. Others have said it. Perhaps citizen FlyByKnight said it best in his comment:
J.J. Redick is the team MVP thus far in my eyes. Without question. There's the statistical stuff that he does but the immeasurable stuff he does is even more ridiculous. The rotations, the knowing where to be at all times, and the sheer calming presence he brings are awesome. Then there's the endless amount of energy he has which allows him to run around a multitude of screens. I think he and Paul are absolutely perfect compliments to each other in the backcourt. Two smart, eloquent, basketball savvy guys who do all the little things that show up in the win column. Love this dude so much.
Redick is a pretty amazing basketball player. He's so much more than a shooter, and so much better defensively than people give him credit for. Does he ever miss a rotation? Not only that, there were several times last night when he rotated onto Dwight Howard -- and damned if J.J. didn't battle with the big guy down there. He's not going to win many of those, but you end up in the post, do your best, slow the guy down, wait for help to come. I thought his five rebounds were huge.
It really felt like one of those games that just gets away, didn't it? The Clippers were outplaying the Rockets early in the third, but what should have been a fast break layup turned into a silly Blake Griffin foul (his fourth no less) and then a DeAndre Jordan steal turned into a silly Chris Paul foul (his fourth as well), Redick missed a layup, Patrick Beverley stole the ball from Paul -- at that point it would have been really easy for the Clippers to say "Not our night, it's been a tough trip, let's go home." Instead it was then when they took over the game.
Two plays by Jordan were crucial in the game. His block of Jeremy Lin's short jumper, which he then saved inbounds, was huge. It led to a transition three by Jared Dudley that tied the game. Then, his one handed offensive rebound, followed by an assist to Jamal Crawford, capped the Clippers' 18-0 run and gave them a seven point lead. Either one of those would have been good plays if DJ had stopped after his first effort. But in each case, a second effort (the save after the block, the pass after the rebound) led to easy points. It's these kinds of plays that turn games.
Two plays by Blake Griffin were crucial in his ongoing development. It's no secret that fourth quarter offense is a question mark with Griffin. Does he want the ball? Does he have the confidence? Can he score in crunch time when the pressure is on and the defenses tighten the screws? His sweeping hook shot over Howard was a terrific move, one we've never seen from him before. I may need to see it again to believe it wasn't a bit lucky, but it looked very intentional, very skilled. A bit later, he overpowered Parsons to get into the lane, then as Howard came to help, executed a beautiful up-fake and used a drop-step to split the double team for the basket. Blake takes a lot of heat for his footwork which is admittedly a mess at times. On that play, it was terrific.
We're not even two full weeks into the season, but it's worth noting that no one in the league has more rebounds than DeAndre Jordan (Kevin Love has played one fewer game and has a higher per game average). He is leading the league in offensive rebounds, both total and per game. Part of that is simply minutes -- Jordan has never played anything close to the minutes he's playing under Doc Rivers. But he's clearly responding to those minutes as well and has been a monster on the glass.
The rotation last night was very interesting, and very telling. Because it's the Rockets, who do not bring a big man off their bench, the Clippers were able to play small all night (Byron Mullens did make a brief first half appearance). But it was the second half that held the clues. Even in the absence of Matt Barnes, Rivers stuck with his real players, shortening his rotation down to seven in the half. That meant an ultra small lineup featuring reserves Darren Collison and Crawford along with either Griffin or Jordan for most of the final quarter. It won't be an option against every team, but when it is, it looks like it's going to be the preferred approach, especially when Barnes is back.
And finally defense. And I mean, finally as in this is my final point as well as "FINALLY" we see some. The Clippers clearly won this game with their defense. Griffin and Jordan were great, Redick and Dudley absolutely 'get it', and Collison suddenly went from being a liability to being a terror (we'll see if that continues). Even Jamal played well in the second half, deflecting passes, challenging Francisco Garcia at the rim, and generally working harder than he is wont to. The closeouts were spot on, the rotations were great. It's fitting that the 18-0 run ended on a simple mistake -- Crawford and Redick both taking Parsons after a made free throw, leaving Garcia unguarded. It took that mistake for the Rockets to get out of the stranglehold the Clippers had them in. The team now knows the defense it's capable of playing -- Rivers can show them the game film from this one and say "keep doing that."