It wasn't very pretty, it wasn't overly impressive, and it was a little scary at times, but the Los Angeles Clippers still came away with a convincing 93-80 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. The most anxious moments came in the third quarter when Chris Paul left the game and went to the locker room with a strained hamstring. He eventually returned to the bench; he did not re-enter the game though the team says he could have. Darren Collison filled in effectively and the team on the floor held a double digit lead most of the fourth quarter, allowing Paul the luxury of taking final stanza off for the second game in a row.
Paul seems to think he'll be fine for Friday's game in Sacramento, but hamstrings can be tricky, so stay tuned.
The Clippers were led in scoring by three players -- Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick, all with 15. It is the first time since opening night that the high-scoring Clippers have failed to have a 20 point scorer. The Clippers shot just 43 percent from the field, and a game after making pretty much every jumper they took against the Bulls, the same shots just refused to go in against the Knicks. However, the LA defense held New York to 39 percent shooting, the second game in a row that they've held an opponent under 40 percent. Given how ineffective all but two Knicks were, it's not surprising that the Clippers were able to shut them down. They held New York to just 12 points in the fourth quarter.
It was a very different story earlier in the game as the Clippers made All Stars out of Carmelo Anthony (fine, he is an All Star) and Andrea Bargnani (he is not). As New York raced to a 19-10 lead, Mike Smith kept wondering aloud at how different the Knicks looked as compared to what he had heard about how they had been playing -- and my thought was, "Obviously the Clippers' defense makes almost any offense looks good." But it is also true that Anthony and especially Bargnani opened the game sizzling hot.
Once things settled in a bit, the Clippers went on a 30-10 run to seemingly establish control. But as they've done so many times this season, they immediately let the Knicks back into the game, as a 13-0 New York run put the visitors back on top by two. To their credit, the Clippers responded immediately, regained the lead, and never trailed again.
At a high level, this game is almost completely opposite from what we've come to expect from the Clippers this season. It was the defense, not the offense, that performed well and won the game. Likewise, it was the bench, not the starters, that were dominant. Looking at the box score, every Clipper reserve has a double digit positive number in the plus/minus column while Redick was the only starter above zero at a mere +1. Now, that mostly means that the Clippers bench was beating up on the inept New York bench -- former All Star Amare Stoudemire was an eye-popping -29 in just 20 minutes of game action -- but still, the Clipper reserves haven't found many benches they can beat up on, so it was more than welcome.
Collison put in his second straight strong performance and finally seems to be out of his funk. He played a season-high 22 minutes in relief of Paul, and finished with nine points on 4-7 shooting. He has scored 23, making 8-13 shots, in the last two games. Rookie Reggie Bullock continues to impress in his appearances in the rotation. He was matched up against Anthony for long stretches tonight, and though Carmelo did bully him in the post some, Bullock's defense was quite impressive on the perimeter. At one point in the fourth quarter, while the Knicks had a small lineup on the court, Doc Rivers showed incredible confidence in Bullock, leaving him matched up on Anthony while placing Griffin on Iman Shumpert. Rarely do rookies draw the tough defenses assignment -- it's even more unusual for a coach to cross-match specifically to put the rookie in the role of stopper.
It was far from the Clippers' most impressive performance, but it was more than adequate. The fact that they maintained and even expanded their lead after losing Paul makes it all the more impressive. Paul missed the final 15 minutes of the game, but after opening the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run, the Clippers never led by fewer than nine points the rest of the game.
After Thanksgiving the Clippers will face Sacramento for the third time this month, and the Kings will be bent on revenge after squandering a late lead in LA last Saturday. That game is going to be difficult -- it will be even more difficult if Paul is limited or even unavailable.