With the Clippers coming into one of the longest road trips of their season, preparing for 7 games in 11 nights including three back to backs, many thought this could be a make or break stretch after 9 games of lackluster play. If the first game of this trip is any sign, the Clippers are beginning to get it together, and all of us fans can begin to back away from the panic ledge. The Clippers shot well from the field tonight, about 54% from the floor, and absolutely lit it up from deep going 12 for 21, but make no mistake, this game was won because of their defense. Defense wins games, and defense with hot shooting wins blowouts.
The Clippers started the game looking to post up Blake Griffin against Channing Frye on multiple occasions, but Frye's length gave Griffin and his T-Rex arms continued problems in the post, a theme that would continue throughout the game. Many of Blake's early post ups were fruitless, and led to a stagnating Clipper offense of ball watching; Griffin exposed his frustration early with a technical foul for slashing down on Frye's arm away from the ball. J.J. Redick started off the Clippers' hot shooting with a three early, surprisingly his only field goal in the game ending 1-6; these cold shooting nights are becoming a bit too frequent for someone of Redick's caliber. Barnes continued the hot start going 2-2 from deep and the Clippers offense looked sharp when they pushed the pace and got into their sets early. From the start, their defense looked sharp; their rotations and help defense were on point as they flew around the court with lots of energy and multiple efforts forcing turnovers. Their only real lapse was at the very end of the quarter as they gave up an easy three pointer, ending the quarter up 26-23.
To start the second quarter, the Clippers broke out the slew of ex-Magic big men with Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Hedo Turkoglu taking the floor with Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, and Jamal Crawford. This second unit played terrifically the entire game. On offense they kept the ball moving constantly and found good, quality shots for every player. On defense they continued the general effort from the first unit, with the exception of Spencer Hawes getting abused by Nikola Vucevic in the post constantly. Turkoglu played like a man 5 years younger flying around the floor, and it may not be a coincidence that better ball movement came with the insertion of him in the second unit. Maybe the answer to all of our small forward/wing problems comes in the form of a 14 year vet. The Magic stayed competitive working the ball through Vucevic, Tobais Harris, and with Channing Frye hitting some key long balls to keep it close. Going into the half the Clippers carried a 56-48 lead.
The third quarter was where the Clippers got absolutely destroyed in the previous game against the Bulls, coming out flat with very little effort on defense or offense. Chris Paul must have gotten the message that they won't win many games in the future with dreadful third quarters, and took it upon himself to blow open the game, scoring 10 points in the quarter on 5 of 7 shooting and handing out 5 assists. An aggressive Paul was a needed antidote for the Clippers offense which came out looking flat for many of their sets, with too many possessions ending in the shot clock running down and not much going on. With Paul hitting, the Clippers pushing the pace for easy baskets for Blake, and Jamal continuing his human torch impression, scoring 22 points on 8-12 shooting, the Clippers shot 60% in the quarter and held the Magic to a smothering 32%. Paul was incredible in the third, winning them the game by extending the lead to 84-68, and earned him and the rest of the starters a 4th quarter of rest, something that may be important with a game scheduled in Miami tomorrow night.
In the 4th quarter, the Clippers second unit kept rolling with players like Farmar coming to life, scoring 13 for the game including 3 from deep. The bench hit lots of shots and kept up their defense, extending the lead to 28 at multiple points through garbage time, finishing the game 114-90. If the bench can put up 60 points a game the Clippers will find themselves winning a lot of games. Let's hope this mojo continues tomorrow night against the Heat!
Ending points and observations:
If the Clippers can continue to play this type of defense every night I am convinced they will win a lot of games and be just as good, if not better than last year. They held the Magic below 40% shooting, and a pedestrian 33% from deep for the best three point shooting team in the league. Part of that is a result of the Magic, mainly Willie Green, just missing some open shots, but you also must give a lot of effort to the Clippers defense.
DeAndre Jordan played a great defensive game against Vucevic in the post. While many seem to think of Jordan as a jumping jack that leaps for every pump fake, he stayed grounded this game one-on-one, and I don't believe Vucevic ever scored in the post on him, mainly from face up mid-range jumpers. Hawes however was abused by Vucevic in the post, with Nikola going at him every time he could, and usually converting. Jordan had some well timed blocks coming from the weak side altering shots.
The Clippers offense at times throughout this game still looked lethargic, with many possessions from the starters ending with little ball movement and bad shots. An analogy I think that fits for the starting unit's offense is Blake Griffin's game. When Blake is aggressive and decisive early when he catches the ball, he often converts and scores. However, when Blake took his time, either settling for jumpers or trying to take on doubles in the post, he was a mere mortal. When the Clipper offense looked its best, it was when they got into their sets early and put up shots early in in the shot clock. Remarkably, the second unit's offense looked more cohesive than the starting five's.
Turkoglu looked great tonight. Maybe he can be a viable option for Doc on the wing, although Hedo did miss his first shot of the season tonight. Similarly if Barnes can shoot 3-5 from deep that will go a long way to solving the Clippers' wing problems.
The Clippers caught a break tonight with Evan Fournier being out with a sore heel. The Magic backcourt with Green, Oladipo, and Payton off the bench were stale all night, and were in dire need of Fournier's shooting and play making. Fournier likely converts the open 3's that Green missed. Oladipo and Payton looked lost all night however, and they badly need to develop any semblance of an outside jump shot in order for defenses to respect them.