When the Clippers squeaked out a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday despite playing terribly, they said it was okay. Those are the kind of games that championship caliber teams pull off, they said — play as badly as you want, just get the win. And don't do it again.
The good news is that the Clippers are 2-0. Hooray! The bad news is, well, barely.
The Clippers started out looking great in the first quarter. The offense was spaced appropriately, the ball was moving, and everything from lobs to 3-pointers was falling true. Defensively, the Lakers gave the Clippers no problem. The game had all the makings of a blowout early, but like all good things, that didn't last.
The Clippers bench came in during the second quarter and everything got wacky. The defense became so unorganized and stagnant that even the Lakers could figure it out. They cut a Clippers double digit lead to just three at one point, and trailed by six at halftime.
It was in the third quarter that all hell broke loose. It was one of those classic Clipper third quarters of old, full of flat-footed jump shots, lazy defense and a complete lack of rebounding. The Lakers took full advantage, and even had themselves looking like a well-oiled machine offensively. Jordan Hill scored 13 of his 21 points in the third, and pretty much got whatever shot he wanted in that time. But Jamal Crawford was absolutely reckless out there tonight, and hit a three from 32 feet out to cut the Lakers lead to four going into the fourth.
Crawford did much of the ball handling and called his own number quite often in the fourth, despite Chris and Blake being on the floor with him. He chucked up threes and circus shots unnecessarily, but in typical Jamal Crawford fashion, a lot of those suckers fell through the net. His gutsiness was frustrating, but his well-timed threes and ability to draw fouls are what put the Clippers in a position to win the ball game. He was the Clippers' second leading scorer, finishing with 22 points off the bench.
Blake Griffin, who you may have heard of, had his way for most of the game, despite suffering through that frustrating third quarter. He scored 39 points in as many minutes, shot 56% from the field and — naturally — nailed 11 of his 12 free throws, including a pair to help ice the game (déjà vu, anyone?). Even though the Clippers have played terribly overall in these two games, Blake looks poised to have by far the best season of his life. His new and improved jump shot is for real, and he looks to be more patient when he winds up in a crowd around the rim. Not only are his skills getting sharper, he's getting smarter. Yet his red-faced temperament remains the same — and you won't like him when he's angry.
Kobe Bryant, who you also may have heard of, finished with 21 points and reminded us all of exactly who he is in the first quarter. There was a play when he shook Matt Barnes with ease and proceeded to throw down a reverse slam, which had me questioning all the earthly rules of time and aging. Good old Kobe even baited Chris Paul into a technical after shoving him to the floor and getting a foul himself. He ain't no spring chicken, but Kobe's got a bit left in the tank. Perhaps a lot more than we thought. Love him or hate him, it's good to have the crotchety old guy back out there.
They say you're only as good as your record, but in the case of the Clippers so far this season, that may not be true. They have two barely-there wins against injury-depleted teams, teams they were expected to beat with room to spare. The defense and rebounding still need to be greatly improved, and there has to be a small forward solution off the bench. Chris Douglas-Roberts has been as useless to the Clippers so far as a comb would be in that Sideshow Bob hair of his.
But despite the shaky play, a win is a win, no matter how ugly. The Clippers have found a way to go out there and get their jobs done, which is what championship-caliber teams do. Or so I've heard.