The Los Angeles Clippers have played the Sacramento Kings three times already this season, and all three games have been tantalizingly close. But the Clippers have come away with the win each time -- tonight's coming in overtime. Whether it's the mark of a more mature team, or just a few good breaks is open to interpretation. One thing we know for certain -- while Chris Paul was the key in the Clippers' final push in the first two games, he was not a factor in the third, as he sat out the game to rest his sore hamstring, forcing the team to actually do it without their star.
Paul joined Matt Barnes, arguably the team's best small forward, on the sidelines in this game. Then, late in the second quarter, J.J. Redick was forced out of the game as well when he sprained his wrist on a hard fall after a DeMarcus Cousins foul. Which meant that in the second half, the team was without their starting backcourt and their top small forward off the bench.
In their absence, Jamal Crawford was huge. He played 37 minutes off the bench -- and though he came off the bench in the second half as per usual, once he entered the game, he did not leave again, through the final 17 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime. With Paul and Redick hurt, Crawford was probably the team's best shooting guard AND simultaneously their best point guard (though Darren Collison played admirably starting in place of Paul). Crawford finished the game with 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. He made 12-22 from the field on mostly very difficult shots. With Blake Griffin struggling to get good shots, the Clippers went long stretches of the game with no offense beyond Crawford. It's not a good long term solution, but it's nice to know that it's available in a pinch.
For the third time this season, DeMarcus Cousins had a huge game against the Clippers -- and for the third time, he was kind of a prick. Cousins finished the game with 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Amazingly, he shot 11-19 from the field, and about half of his misses were actually blocked by DeAndre Jordan (who finished with a career high nine blocked shots). So basically, Jordan pretty much had to block the shot in order for Cousins to miss. But he also had a classic Cousins-Clippers. Cousins didn't agree with the call on the Redick foul (does he ever?) and as the teams were coming back onto the court, Redick went to tap Cousins in a "no hard feelings" gesture -- to which Boogie said "Get the f*** out of here" and walked away, leaving Redick to roll his eyes. Bear in mind, you can disagree with the official's call in that situation, but you might still be concerned with the guy who landing on his back from several feet in the air. Not only did Cousins not show any concern for Redick on his own -- he wouldn't even acknowledge him when J.J. reached out.
While Cousins continued to torment L.A. both with his game and his attitude, the Clippers did finally slow down Isaiah Thomas, who had been huge against them in the first two meetings. In this one, Thomas was limited to just five points, his season low and only the second time all year that he has failed to score in double figures.
The Clippers got far too conservative in the final moments of regulation, and it almost cost them. They didn't have much to run other than the "Give the ball to Jamal" play, but even for that, they were too concerned with milking clock, rather than actually trying to get a decent shot. Fortunately, the defense was pretty good down the stretch, but a lucky three pointer from Greivis Vasquez cut the Clippers lead from five to two, and a couple of Ben McLemore free throws with 17 seconds left tied the game. Crawford tried to win it, but his jump shot was long at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
The Kings scored the first four points of the extra period, and seemed to have all of the momentum. But the Clippers played really solid defense the rest of the way, and the Kings didn't score again, nor did they really get another good shot. The Clippers closed the game with the final 10 points, including four points and two assists for Crawford and four points for Griffin, to secure a very hard-earned victory.
Griffin, despite not playing particularly well, still finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. He made only two shots in the paint the entire game (both of them dunks off of Crawford feeds, including the go ahead basket in overtime) but did make a solid percentage outside of the point, where he was 5-8. He also had some important hustle plays including chasing down a loose ball while the Clippers held a two point lead in the overtime period. No one seemed happier to have the win at the final buzzer than the previously frustrated Griffin.
Winning on the road is never easy. For the Clippers, winning with Chris Paul will never be easy either. To get a win on the road without Paul is an absolute bonus for the team.
Both Paul and Redick will be key to the team's chances Sunday against Indiana. We'll have to wait and see if they'll be available or if the team will have to turn to Crawford once again.