The Los Angeles Clippers improved to 3-0 on their current four-game road swing with a 122-117 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. They connected on an absurd 15 of their 30 three-point attempts, with J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers (!) combining to shoot 9-for-12 from deep.
The Clippers came out and dictated the pace of this game from the jump. The defense was playing together on a string, and the Hornets weren't able to get anything going. Kemba Walker was always going to be Charlotte's focal point with Al Jefferson sidelined and Nic Batum hobbled, and the Clips did an excellent job of mucking the game up defensively. A pair of Paul Pierce three-balls got L.A. on the board as they built an early 13-3 advantage. DeAndre Jordan was a menace on the glass, collecting eight rebounds in the first quarter alone.
LAC came out chucking, as they attempted 12 threes in the first, hitting five. Charlotte has been shooting the longball like crazy so far this season, but the Clips did a fine job of running their shooters off the line and forcing them to put the ball on the floor. The road team held a 32-25 lead after one, with the Hornets shooting just 31% from the field.
Charlotte tried to mount a rally late in the second quarter, turning what had been a 10-point deficit into a one-point disadvantage at 53-52 with under two to play. That's when Chris Paul decided to take over and kill the Hornets' momentum almost singlehandedly.
CP3 scored four points and assisted on two other Clipper baskets (a D.J. dunk following a CP steal, and a Pierce three) as the Clippers built their lead back up to nine, 65-56, at the break. Charlotte was playing with tons of energy, and it looked as though the Clippers were starting to falter as they couldn't match the Hornets' enthusiasm. These are situations in which they'll look to their leader to help prop them back up, and that's exactly what CP3 did.
Rookie big man Frank Kaminsky proved problematic for L.A. during his stint on the floor. He's a combination of size, quickness and floor-stretching that the Clippers struggle to defend without Blake Griffin available. D.J. doesn't want to defend on the perimeter, and none of the other Clips (save for Cole Aldrich) have the size to contend with the seven-foot Kaminsky on the interior. He buoyed the Hornets' bench and helped keep them in the game, scoring 11 points in 12 first half minutes. He'd finish with 20 for the game.
The Clippers kept that momentum going early in the third, eventually extending their lead to 12. Unfortunately, the Hornets wasted little time getting back into it as the Clippers started to turn the ball over. As noted on the broadcast, Charlotte has six wins already this season in games they've trailed by at least 10 at one point. We also know that protecting leads isn't exactly a Clipper strength.
The two teams seemed to be trading buckets throughout the third, as J.J. Redick (literally) couldn't miss. The former Dukie nailed all three of his three-point tries in the period and paced the club with 13 points. He would finish with a game-high 26 points on 5-for-6 shooting from deep.
Following a Jeremy Lamb putback, the Clippers got a four-point play (the Jamal Crawford Special) from JC himself, pushing L.A.'s lead back to nine:
Unfortunately, a lapse on the defensive glass led to a buzzer-beating triple by Walker that brought the Hornets back to within six heading into the game's final frame. Charlotte has a bevy of frontcourt players, and LAC's smaller second unit struggled to contain the bigger Hornets on the boards. CHA collected five OREBs in the third period alone, leading to nine second-chance points, including the aforementioned Kemba triple. The Clips, on the other hand, didn't nab a single offensive rebound in the third. The Hornets buried L.A. on the offensive glass all night long. Charlotte collected a whopping 17 offensive rebounds (compared to just eight for the Clips), leading to 25 second-chance points. Dominating the offensive glass is what kept the Hornets from being blown out of the building.
The Clips got good performances from both Pierce and Austin Rivers at the perfect time. The team's elder statesman is finally starting to see some positive regression on his three-point stroke. He hit three more threes in this game, and is now 9-of-17 from deep over the last three games. Rivers, in his second game back following an ankle sprain, was a monster. He scored a season-high 22 points of his own, including four conversions from beyond-the-arc. He came up with a crucial steal midway through the fourth before finding Crawford open behind the long line for a three that put L.A. up 99-93 early in the quarter. He then hit a dagger of a triple that gave the Clips a 108-97 lead and forced a Steve Clifford timeout.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Austin's game is when he'll settle for midrange jumpers rather than taking it all the way to the hole. In this game, though, he was taking smart shots (open threes) and attacking the bucket, as evidenced by his shot chart (via NBA.com):
When Rivers is playing smart basketball and being aggressive he's a useful offensive player. It obviously helps to have the shots falling, too. Per Dan Woike, Rivers' four three-pointers in this game were the same number he'd hit in his previous 18 games combined.
Throughout the fourth quarter, though, it seemed like the Clippers were maintaining their steady cushion while simultaneously allowing the Hornets to hang around. Charlotte never got closer than to within five points following the aforementioned Crawford three, and it was CP3 that again stomped on the Hornets' hopes late in the game. In all, Paul scored 19 points while handing out 11 assists in 30 minutes. He was in charge throughout the night, and the game was played at the pace he wanted. Excluding the uncharacteristic five turnovers and subpar shooting (4-of-13), CP3 was very solid in this game.
You're not going to lose many games in which you shoot 50% from deep on that many (30) attempts. Meanwhile, the hot-shooting Hornets made only nine of their 30 longballs (30%). Limiting Charlotte's threes was a key for the Clips in this game, and they were effective in shutting them down. The Hornets were severely undermanned with Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes all sidelined with injuries, but the Clippers were obviously missing a rather key cog of their own in Blake Griffin. Road wins against quality opponents are tough to come by in this league, and this is an excellent feather in LAC's collective cap.
The Clippers improved to 20-13 on the season with this win as they head into tomorrow night's road trip-capper in New Orleans. With a win on New Year's Eve over the Pelicans, LAC will have its first five-game winning streak of the season.