You know what? I kind of love this victory by the Los Angeles Clippers over the Utah Jazz. Sure, we expect the Clippers to beat the worst team in the Western Conference, and we probably expect them to do it more easily than this. It certainly wasn't pleasant watching as the Utah maintained a lead of 10 or so from 21-11 in the first quarter until 70-60 late in the third.
The Clippers had tried to make a defense-led push in the first half, but their eight point run was answered by eight straight from Utah, and the game remained more or less on an even keel. The Clippers weren't necessarily flat (though they were far from sharp): their biggest problem was they couldn't make shots, missing three of five shots pretty consistently until late in the third.
But for the second game in a row, the Clippers dominated the final 17 minutes of play, and really, those are the 17 minutes you want to dominate. Against Golden State they turned a seven point deficit into a 13 point win by closing the game on a 42-22 run. Against Utah, they turned a 10 point disadvantage into a nine point win, finishing the game 36-17 over the final 16 minutes and change.
The view from the Great Salt Lake
All of the damage was done on a 25-4 run that turned a 70-60 Utah with a little over four minutes left in the third into a commanding 85-74 LA advantage on Griffin's follow dunk a little over four minutes into the fourth. And while 25 points in eight and a half minutes is nice, the best way to turn a game is to stop the opponent, and four points over that period of time definitely qualifies. The Clippers defense held the Jazz to 1-11 from the field while forcing six turnovers and blocking a shot. The Jazz had more shot clock violations (two) than baskets (one) over the course of over eight minutes of basketball.
Teams aren't going to be super sharp every night. Some hot shooting in the final 17 minutes pushed their shooting percentage up near 49%, but that's misleading given that LA hovered around 40% well into the second half. The ability to lock down on the defensive end is the one thing you can count on when you need to make something happen. And for two games in a row, the Clippers have done exactly that. They also managed to make nine three pointers, pushing their record to an uncanny 28-0 when making nine or more long balls.
We saw something a bit different from Doc Rivers tonight with the rotation. After playing Griffin the entire second half on Wednesday, he once again eschewed the second half services of Hedo Turkoglu, but this time used Glen Big Baby Davis to spell Griffin. I believe it was the first extended minutes of the season with Davis and DeAndre Jordan playing together at the big positions, but truthfully it's been the big rotation I've been expecting since Davis was signed. I believe that in the playoffs Rivers will settle on a three big rotation of Griffin, Jordan and Davis, with Danny Granger getting some minutes as a small ball four and Turkoglu reduced to spot duty.
The Davis-Jordan tandem was on the court when the Clippers started their push tonight, and their interior defense was key to the comeback. It's worth noting that in a nine point win, the All Star Griffin posted a plus/minus of -2 in 36 minutes on the floor. Davis' numbers are nothing to write home about -- five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes -- but the guy helps the team in myriad small ways. He's solid, in more ways than one.
It's time once again, as we did last season, to begin discussing where this winning streak fits in to franchise history. We know that last season's 17 game winning streak was far and away the longest in franchise history. This is only the third time in history that a Clippers/Braves team has mounted a double digit winning streak, and they're just one game away from equaling the mark of 11 straight set in Buffalo in November 1974. Sunday's home game against the Cavs will be an opportunity to tie that team for second on the franchise's all time list.
Another thing we did last season more than we've done this season is discuss all time franchise records. Since last year's team had the perfect December to pad their record early, that team owned all of the "best record through x games" marks -- until now. At 47-20, this is the best record through 67 games in franchise history, and the latest in the season the team has ever been above .700 in winning percentage (last season's team was 43-18 on March 1 but dropped below 70% the rest of the way; last season's team was 46-21 after 67 games).
With 15 games remaining, the Clippers need to win 10 more to best last season's franchise record of 56-26 for a season. With the next five games coming against teams below .500, they should be well on their way in the coming two weeks.