In a game that had absolutely no flow from start to finish, the Los Angeles Clippers held off a late rally by the Indiana Pacers to win 99-91. The Clippers held the lead for 44 of the game's 48 minutes and only once the entire night did Indiana have the lead and the ball. It was never particularly easy, even when it felt like the Clippers were dominating, but to their credit they always got big baskets when they needed them, and they got plenty of big defensive stop as well.
In fact, aside from the 13 unanswered Pacer points that changed the stretch run of the game from a stroll to a sprint, the Clippers played excellent defense all night. They made David West fight for his 22 points, holding him to just 5-14 shooting from the field, and bottled up Paul George (7-18) and George Hill (4-12) as well.
It was really a strange, strange game, that the Clippers could so easily have lost. Indiana clearly missed suspended center Roy Hibbert, as the Clippers opened the game with three buckets at the rim and dominated the points in the paint on the night. In the first half the Clippers were running their offense to perfection and getting precisely the shots they wanted every time down the floor. When those shots were two-pointers, they made them. When they were three-pointers, mostly wide open, they missed. The Clippers were 1-14 from beyond the arc in the first half, but 21-33 inside it. Had the Clippers made anything close to their usual percentage from deep, they would have had a double digit lead at the least. As it was, they led by just two at halftime.
The Clippers three point woes were matched by carelessness with the ball on the Indiana side. The Pacers had 14 first half turnovers, many of them more or less unforced. There was one stretch when they seemed to throw the ball out of bounds as part of their set offense.
As if all that weren't enough weirdness, the first half also featured at least four plays where the Clippers fumbled away sure steals or rebounds, and in each case the Pacers, who were struggling to score otherwise, turned the loose ball into a bucket -- two of them worth three points. Combined with West's running three pointer at the first half buzzer, the Pacers had at least 13 found points in the first half.
But the Clippers played through it. After falling behind briefly in the third quarter, they put together a 30-12 run over an 11 minute stretch from the middle of the third until the middle of the fourth. They were led in that sequence by Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin who combined for 19 of the 30 points. At the end of the run, the Clippers were up 17 with their starters on the bench, with Vinny Del Negro entertaining visions of resting Chris Paul and Griffin for Friday night's game in Cleveland.
Alas it was not to be. George hit a three, Hill hit a three, Lance Stephenson hit a layup, George hit another three and a couple of free throws, and suddenly it was a four point game. Paul and Griffin returned to the game in the midst of the run, but Indy's defense was locked in by that point and it took a couple of possessions for the Clippers offense to get going, even with the stars back on the court.
But after the Pacers got within four at 91-87, Chris Paul took over. The Clippers had been through five straight empty possessions and were in desperate need of a basket which Paul delivered. He proceeded to score the Clippers final eight points on three baskets and a couple of free throws in the final couple of minutes. The Pacers are a very good defensive team, the best in the league, but Paul was better. It's a definite luxury to have a player who can manufacture clutch points at the end of a game, a the Clippers have one of the best in Paul.
The Clippers got big games from Paul (29 points and 8 assists), Crawford (23) and Griffin (18 points on 7-10 shooting and 14 rebounds) but not a lot from anyone else. DeAndre Jordan missed most of the second half after catching an elbow that bloodied his nose, and Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups combined to shoot 2-15, leaving the starting unit beyond Paul and Griffin with a mere nine points total.
Hibbert or no Hibbert, this is a good win for the Clippers. There's no question that the Pacers were missing their defensive backstop, but then again their comeback was fueled from the perimeter and Hibbert probably wouldn't have been a part of that. The Clippers overcame a disjoint effort and some frankly bizarre calls from the officials, but kept their composure and won the game. It moves them 24 games over .500 for the first time this season, and ensure them of a winning record in back-to-back seasons in their California history. But there's no time to rest on their laurels, as they now have to take care of business in Cleveland.