The Clippers owe this game to Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul. The Clippers' primary two perimeter creators were absolutely terrific on the offensive end, scoring a combined 48 points on 26 shots, draining six three pointers along the way. This efficiency was enough to overcome the numerous flaws that the Clippers displayed during the game, and they will be very happy to walk away from this one with a victory.
The Clippers offense was humming in the first quarter despite a merely mediocre 25 points put up in the period. Blake Griffin was getting open on the PnR consistently as both defenders went hard at Chris Paul, and rather than jacking up midrange shots, he found corner shooters repeatedly as their defenders peeled off to help. Unfortunately Reggie Bullock and Hedo Turkoglu missed several open attempts, which helped to keep the Pistons a little bit ahead. They scored several fastbreak dunks off errant passes, mainly caused by the long arms of Drummond and Smith.
The 2nd and 3rd quarters saw much of the same, with good processes leading to middling results, but the 2nd unit was not quite as smooth on the offensive end. They were fortunate in that the Pistons again failed to capitalize, their own poor offense unable to make real gains on the Clippers defense, which did step up its pressure after the 1st quarter. Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyle Singler were on fire off the Detroit bench, shooting 7-10 from the floor and 3-5 from 3, and Dinwiddie in particular was extremely impressive. Nonetheless, the Clippers went into the 4th quarter only down one point, and their closers were able to pull through.
Jamal Crawford went off in the 4th, hitting 3 pointers, floaters off the dribble, and clutch free throws. His play helped move the Clippers ahead of the Pistons for good in the middle of the quarter, with the Farmar-Crawford-Turkoglu-Hawes-DJ lineup getting good looks and steps on the defensive end. At 93-86 with 3:30 left, the starters came back in, and immediately allowed an offensive rebound by Drummond followed by an Augustin 3. The following possession saw Augustin easily getting to the hoop and dishing to Smith for the open layup. A furious Doc called timeout, and the Clippers were inspired, going on an 8-0 run highlighted by a CP3 bingo, a Jamal Crawford block, and a deep Jamal three ball. Back to back awful turnovers by CP3 and Jamal followed by Pistons scores got them back to within 6, but Paul got the steal on the Pistons inbound and the game was over.
Penetration: DJ Augustin was able to get into the paint fairly easily throughout the game, especially in the first quarter, and this resulted in quite a few open kickout 3s and lobs at the basket. The Pistons took 24 free throws, a fairly large amount, mostly due to this penetration. Chris Paul can still get stops and steals when needed, but there were times when his defense was poor at best. This is a bad sign, especially since Augustin is one of the worst starting PGs in the NBA.
Free Throw Shooting: The Clippers were 18-19 from the line tonight, and while most of the guys who took free throws can be expected to make a high percentage, 95% is still incredible. They needed every one of those points down the stretch as well. The fact that the Clippers have 3 top of the line free throw shooters in Jamal, Chris, and Redick is a rarely talked about bonus that is huge in every close game.
Blake Griffin: Blake was running the offense beautifully in the first quarter, finding open 3 point shooters seemingly every trip down the floor. Nonetheless, he shot an awful 6-17 from the field, and continues to take midrange jumpers at the expense of attacking the basket. I almost hope he has some sort of back issue, because he does not look like the MVP candidate who put on a show all season long last year. Hopefully he recovers or snaps out of his funk soon, since the Clippers need Blake to be at top form against playoff caliber teams.
Jamal Crawford: He has been talked about for a good deal already, but Jamal's importance to this win can't be understated. He might make some poor decisions sometimes, but this team needs his shot creation and making abilities right now in the worst way.
The Pistons: They played well tonight for the most part (with the notable exception of Greg Monroe) and were missing starting point guard Brandon Jennings, but I just don't see it with this team. They have a lot of solid role players, but their only real top level talent is Drummond, and he is still mostly a superior DeAndre Jordan on offense. While many people projected them to make the playoffs this year, I dont think they will make it short of a breakout by Drummond or Caldwell Pope.
A win!: While it may not have been pretty, a win is a win, and the Clippers will now move on to a far stiffer test against the Rockets in Houston. James Harden is a different beast from anyone on the Pistons, and even sans Dwight Howard, the Clippers will need to step up their game a whole lot to win in Texas.