The Los Angeles Clippers have a better record through 37 games than they did last season, the best season in the franchise's history. Even so, there are plenty of reasons to accuse the team of underachieving, chief among them their poor showing against the NBA's top teams. Today in STAPLES Center was perhaps their best case yet for putting that issue to bed. Against a loaded and very hot Dallas Mavericks team, the Clippers never trailed by more than a point and won going away, 120-100.
The Clippers led by six after the first quarter and by eight at halftime, then used a 14-2 run at the start of the second half to open a 20 point lead and never looked back. The Mavs never got closer than a dozen the rest of the way, and the lead grew to as many as 26. It was the kind of performance we've been waiting for, a game where all of the offensive weapons were clicking and the defense did more than enough as well.
It's worth asking if perhaps the Mavs just had a bad day -- and at least two of them did. The newly acquired Rajon Rondo had an absolutely brutal game, making just 1-11 from the field. Head coach Rick Carlisle would also like to forget his afternoon -- he picked up two technical fouls in a five minute span and the third quarter and spent the rest of the game in the visitor's locker room.
But Dirk Nowitzki did Dirk Nowitzki things, scoring 25 points on 10-19 shooting and Monta Ellis had a quiet 23, making 4-6 three balls, and it didn't much matter because the Mavericks never really came close to stopping the Clippers. L.A. shot 52% from the field and made 13 three pointers and got great balanced scoring across the roster. Blake Griffin, whose midrange game out-Dirked Dirk today, led the team with 22 points, but five other Clippers chipped in with between 13 and 19 points.
Griffin was 11-15 from the field on the day, a sparkling 8-10 on face up jumpers. It's worth noting that the Mavs as currently constructed, have a terrible time matching up with the Clippers. They don't exactly want to assign Nowitzki to Griffin, which leaves the assignment to Tyson Chandler, but Chandler doesn't really want to stray to far out of the paint. Chandler made a conscious decision to give Griffin the 18 footer, and Griffin made him pay. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan is way too big for Dirk around the basket. so the Mavs wind up losing on both front court matchups. Jordan had 13 points and 15 rebounds, five of them on the offensive glass. He made 6-10 from the field, and those four misses included two lob dunks he failed to convert and one easy putback -- most nights he would have been 9-10 on the chances he got.
It's just one win, but it's a big one. The Christmas Day win over Golden State was just an ugly game that the Warriors lost more than the Clippers won. Other key wins were way back in November and had asterisks of their own. This one, coming on the heels of a dismantling of the Lakers, feels like a potential statement. It remains to be seen, but the team really looked like the team we expected today.
It's also big in the standings -- at east as big as an early January game can be. The Clippers remain sixth position in the Western Conference standings, but they are just a half game behind Dallas, Memphis and Houston at this point. That's the difference between sixth and third in the West right now -- one win or one loss. And second place Portland isn't that far away either.
With the Heat coming in for another matinee tomorrow, the Clippers have a chance to make another statement. Is this the start of something big? If they can keep the momentum going, it may be.
One interesting footnote to this game: veteran referee Joey Crawford pulled up lame in the second quarter. I did not see any specific incident, but it appeared to be a knee injury of some sort. Crawford was taken to the locker room and did not return, so the game continued with a crew of two officials.
Also, sorry about the absence of an open thread. That was my bad. With the NFL games today it seems like the preview served just fine for the few people who were around.