After looking extraordinarily ordinary in their first five games this season, the Los Angeles Clippers came out and played their eleventh straight half of meh basketball in the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. We may never know what Doc Rivers said to the club at halftime, nor why he hadn't said it to them before now, but whatever it was, it worked. For the first time since last May the Clippers played with fire and passion, outscoring the Blazers by 13 in the second half to post a 106-102 victory, far and away their best win of the season.
The real story of the second half was the defense, and DeAndre Jordan was the leading man. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it was the first time this season that we've seen anything like it from this team -- at least on any sort of a sustained basis, more than a couple of possessions at a time.
The Clippers, who could get neither stops nor rebounds in the first half, suddenly started getting both in bunches. It was as if suddenly, during one half time speech, they suddenly understood what they were supposed to be doing. Rotations that were confused or late or simply wrong for five and a half games were suddenly laser sharp. And Jordan was simply everywhere, shutting down LaMarcus Aldridge while disrupting everyone else in a black uniform.
On the other end, the story was J.J. Redick. Redick had been as cold as he's ever been in his life through the first five games, shooting just 29 percent from the field, but he became himself again in this one. He made 11 of 13 shots to finish with a game high 30 points, and his three pointer while being fouled in the third quarter (he missed out on his four point play with a rare miss at the line) triggered a 14-0 run that gave the Clippers the lead for good. That run also featured three three pointers from Jamal Crawford.
But nothing is coming easy for this team, and the Blazers have made a habit of mounting big comebacks the last couple of seasons, so it all came down to the wire. The Clippers led by nine with just over two minutes left on a Chris Paul jumper, but the Blazers reeled off seven straight and had the ball with a chance to tie in the final minute.
Portland made some dubious decisions in the last 45 seconds -- a ridiculously tough three point attempt by Damian Lillard (the kind of shot he has a nasty habit of making), an unnecessary foul by Aldridge to send Paul to the line -- to help the Clippers hang on. Fittingly, it was Jordan's back tap on an offensive rebound with ten seconds left that really sealed the game.
Will this win get the Clippers back on track? If it reminds them of how to play defense, it will have done enough.