There's something going on with the Los Angeles Clippers right now, and whatever it is, the NBA should try to bottle it, because wherever the Clippers go, amazing things are happening. The Clippers beat the Raptors in Toronto Saturday night 126-118, despite 51 points for second year pro Terrence Ross. Ross is the third person to score 50 points in the NBA this season, the 22nd active NBA player to accomplish the feat. He also tied the Raptors franchise record for points, set by Vince Carter in the 90s. (There are two 50 point scorers on the Clippers' roster, Jamal Crawford and Antawn Jamison.) As you might imagine, it was a new career high for Ross, besting his previous career high -- by a mere 25 points. If Ross had gotten a season-high tonight, and then you took that and ADDED it to his previous career high, you'd get what he actually scored.
The Clippers have averaged over 117 points per game in their last seven wins. There are six teams in the NBA who haven't scored 117 points yet this season. And whether it's a case of terrible L.A. defense or the opponents just catching a bit of whatever scoring fever the Clippers have, shots seem to be flying and falling for both teams every time the Clippers lace them up.
Tonight it was Ross. The eighth pick in the 2012 draft, he made his first three-pointer 59 seconds into the game. He made four straight to open the game, and then finally missed one with 31 seconds left in the quarter -- only to get the ball back with just enough time to make his fifth three at the first quarter buzzer! He made two more threes in the second quarter and finished the first half 7-10 from deep having scored 23 points, three off his career high. He did all that without making a two point basket.
He scored another 13 points in the third quarter, making another quarter ending three, this one from five steps behind the arc. His tenth and final three pointer came with eight minutes remaining; it gave him 46 points and Toronto a three point lead at 105-102 -- but it also marked the beginning of the end for the Raptors. The Clippers promptly went on a 22-8 run to put the game away, and Ross did not make another field goal over the final eight minutes.
The problem with having a complementary player having an out-of-body experience like this is that if you try to ride it, suddenly you're a different team than you've ever been before. It didn't help Dwane Casey that his leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan, suffered a sprained ankle when he landed on Hedo Turkoglu's foot in the first half, so it made perfect sense to put Ross in the wing scorer role. But when Ross, who puts up a below average 17.9% usage rate on the season, became the entire focus of the Toronto offense down the stretch, the Clippers were able to lean all of their coverages towards him and the Raptors got out of sync.
Ross' magical night overshadowed some pretty spectacular nights from the visitors as well. In the first half, Crawford actually outscored his fellow Seattle native 26 to 23. Crawford finished with a season-high 37 and also tied his season-high with 11 assists. He shot 12-23 from the floor, 5-11 from beyond the arc and made all eight of his free throws.
J.J. Redick played less than four minutes in the first half before leaving with lower back pain. He went back to the locker room for treatment, and I began wondering whether he'd be OK for the game in Milwaukee on Monday. But after stretching and treatment at halftime, Redick re-emerged in the second half to take on the perimeter scoring responsibility, putting up 10 fourth quarter points on 4-4 shooting, including a cold-blooded three with just under a minute left that iced the game once and for all.
And then there was Blake Griffin, who recorded his seventh 30 point game in the last five weeks -- he didn't have a single 30 point game in the first seven weeks of the season. Blake scored in a variety of manners, however the Clippers needed him to, taking whatever the Raptors gave him. In years past when Chuck Hayes would defend him, we realized that Hayes was strong and could impede Griffin's progress, but we always wondered why Griffin didn't just shoot over Hayes. Well, guess what? Tonight he shot over Hayes. In addition, he bulled through Amir Johnson, he darted around Jonas Valanciunas, he got to the line (10-13). With the Clippers up seven and two minutes left, working with a short clock, Griffin calmly hit a 20 footer to keep the Raptors at bay. It wasn't Blake's best game on the defensive glass -- he had only five boards and the Raptors collected 15 of their own misses continuing a disturbing trend -- but the full array of offensive skills were definitely on display, including a pair of fast break dunks off of Crawford lobs.
The Clippers defense has certainly been far from great on this trip, but one is tempted to give them a pass for this game. They held Toronto players NOT named Terrence to 67 points on 44% shooting. And even with Ross, when it mattered most, they were able to force him out of his zone and win the game.
The Clippers move to 4-2 on the trip with a trip to Milwaukee to face the lowly Bucks standing between them and their nice, warm beds. The Grammys are tomorrow night, so the Grammy trip must be over soon. It's been so entertaining, I almost wish it would keep on going.