A couple of days ago, I had the audacity to wonder what was wrong with the Los Angeles Clippers. Since then, they've answered pretty emphatically -- nothing's wrong with us, biyotch. (To be fair, I'm not sure they said biyotch, nor am I sure how to spell it, but that was the gist at any rate.)
In their first nine games of the season, the Clippers had maybe one great quarter of basketball, perhaps two decent wins (not bad, not great) and a whole lot of meh. But in back-to-back games in Florida to open their first extended road trip of the season, they've looked like the team we were expecting all along.
The win in Orlando on Wednesday night was nice enough. But even then, there were a few disclaimers. Jamal Crawford was white hot, J.J. Redick wasn't really going still, the bench carried much of the load -- it was a good win, and the largest margin of victory on the season, but not really the recipe for contender soup.
In Miami, the Clippers used a 30-5 first quarter run to build a 24 point lead and never looked back. That run was as good as anything we've every seen out of the Doc Rivers Clippers. There were dunks, layups, pick and rolls, good defense, threes, incredible ball movement, and whole lot of fun. And as hard as it can be to maintain intensity and maintain leads in the NBA, the Heat never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way. The Clippers never again approached the Nirvana level play of that first quarter -- but let's face it, they didn't need to.
How good were they? The Clippers had more assists (a season high 31) than Miami had field goals (30). That's not something you see every day.
Among a host of Clippers that played well, Chris Paul stands out. His hyper-efficient 26 points and 12 assists came against just 13 shots and a single turnover, all in 33 minutes. Of course, he was mostly going up against rookie Shabazz Napier, which hardly seemed fair, but it was still a masterpiece.
Blake Griffin added 26 points on 8-12 shooting, with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. I could nitpick and ask for more boards, but really, he did it all. He even made a three pointer. The four assists almost seem like too few, perhaps because a few of them were so memorable. The Clippers signature play last season was the center pick and roll, with one of the most devastating options being the high-low lob to DeAndre Jordan after Griffin catches the ball at the high post. The one Griffin threw towards the end of the big first quarter run tonight was so good and so instinctual that I had to run the DVR back to make sure it wasn't an accident -- I honestly wondered if Blake even knew Jordan was there or if he just got lucky (he knew, btw). For his part, all Jordan contributed was a 12/11 double-double, making all six of his shots (all of them dunks, IIRC).
The Clippers shot a season-high 56% from the floor and made 13 three pointers. J.J. Redick made four threes, perhaps indicating that he has broken out of his slump. Meanwhile, have the Clippers found their backup small forward in Hedo Turkoglu? They're undefeated with an average margin of victory over 20 when Hedo plays the three. He even defended Mario Chalmers a few possessions in this game, as Miami went small while the Clippers were very big.
We said throughout the rough patch that it's a long season and the lackluster start would be forgotten if the Clippers could string some good games together. Well, it's time to get out the Men in Black flashie thingie and forget. Whether it's being away from the distractions of home or finally heeding the wake up call after the Bulls fiasco or something else intangible, the Clippers team we were expecting has finally arrived. They could not have asked for a better start to the road trip, they've got a couple of days off, and they'll head into Memphis Sunday well rested and riding high.