Saturday night at the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Clippers had a chance to tie their season long winning streak mark of four. They had done it twice before this season but their previous opposition in that fourth game had not been a team that saw itself over .500. The Denver Nuggets were. But the Clippers paid that no mind.
For the third straight home game, and fourth game overall, the final buzzer sounded with the Los Angeles Clippers on top. It started off well for the home team as they jumped out to an early 10-point lead after the first quarter. Everything seemed to be clicking. Their offense looked great with ball movement and shot-making while their defense seemed energized and in harmony. In fact, they held the Nuggets to a paltry 7 of 25 (28%) shooting in the opening frame while shooting 10 of 20 (50%) themselves. Clippers did have 6 turnovers, though.
The second quarter was an interesting one from a basketball standpoint. The Nuggets didn't shoot well, only 7 of 23 (30.4%), but scored 25 points thanks to 12 trips to the free throw line, of which they converted 10. The Clippers put up 28 points themselves in the quarter and the final 4 were a thing of beauty. Blake Griffin bullied his way into the paint for a tough layup. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Matt Barnes deflected the ball which trickled near Darren Collison. Collison, realizing the clock had started due to Barnes touching it, simply picked up the ball and flicked it towards the hoop. Nothing but net. It put the Clippers up by 13 at the break.
The second half started with a lull. The Clippers let Denver cut the lead down to 6 after 4 minutes of play but the Clippers motored to the end of the quarter on a 21-8 run. Denver played inspired basketball in the 4th quarter, trying their best to gnaw their way back into it but Blake Griffin, Darren Collison, and Matt Barnes weren't having it. In the end, the Clippers won a convincing game that they should have won in convincing fashion.
There are a ton of positives to take away from this game. On one hand, the Clippers move to 4-0 since moving Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup and you can see the impact he's having while JJ Redick is trying to recuperate from his injury. Crawford has seemed to fit seamlessly into the starting lineup due to his ability to move without the ball and be a catch-and-shoot nightmare for opposing teams. He simply knows where to be on the court with the starters and, to me, looks better moving without the ball in his hands than he does having to create.
Another positive to take away from this game was Blake Griffin's energy on both ends of the court. He not only put up 24 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block but he also was highly motivated on defense. The rejection he had of JJ Hickson was pretty spectacular. It was shortly followed by DeAndre Jordan - who had 7 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks - blocking JJ Hickson. In one fell swoop, the Clippers showed they meant business tonight.
But, back to Blake. It's refreshing to see that on a night where Chris Paul's offense wasn't completely there, Blake Griffin could step up and be the offensive leader that the team needs. He was a whirling dervish at times out there. He flashed exceptional ball handling on more than one occasion but none more so in the second quarter when he just turned Ty Lawson all around and drew a foul. The monster game shouldn't be overlooked despite Kenneth Faried only playing the opening 3 minutes of the contest. It was a dominant performance at both ends for Blake Griffin.
For a while there, all the Nuggets could do offensively was rely on Wilson Chandler hitting some tough shots and getting to the free throw line. At halftime, the players on the Denver Nuggets roster who weren't named Chandler or Mozgov were a combined 3 of 31. In a way, it doesn't matter what kind of defense a team is playing at that point. Guys just weren't hitting shots for Denver. Some of that could certainly have to do with that demoralizing loss they suffered last night against Phoenix.
Either way, the Clippers held a team that came in tied for 11th in Offensive Efficiency to 91 points on 88 shots and 35.2% from the field. Whether the back-to-back and fatigue had anything to do with that is up for debate. What's not up for debate is that in their last three games, the Clippers have held three good offensive teams to an average of 93.3 points when those three teams average around 102.3 points per game. Any time you're holding three good offensive teams to an average of 9 points lower than their season average, you're doing something right.
In the final tallies, Chris Paul had 10 points on 3 of 8 shooting while also having 11 assists and 3 steals. Jamal Crawford was fantastic, going off for a game-high 27 points and making 6 threes. Jared Dudley also chipped in with 9 points on 3 threes. Darren Collison had 13 points in a solid performance off the bench that saw him play closer to what we were expecting when we signed him. And then there was Matt Barnes. In his return game, goggled up and everything, he put up 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. He was everywhere and his energy was certainly missed. Barnes fires this team up and we need that.
In a game that had its ebbs and flows, the Clippers, as a whole, played pretty well. Each cog fit perfectly into their role and did exactly what they were there to do. Nothing more, nothing less. It was a good win, a comfortable win, and a building win. Especially with the Minnesota Timberwolves coming in tomorrow night. They'll have to keep up this level of play to stretch their winning streak to five before the Christmas trip begins.
For the Nuggets perspective on the game, be sure to check out Denver Stiffs.