The road team entered today's matchup yet again shorthanded, as things seemingly have been for most of the past three seasons in the Crescent City. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson had already been out for a while now, and today Omer Asik and Tyreke Evans joined them among the wounded, while Anthony Davis returned from his own injury and Eric Gordon played through his (although he started off the bench today, punishment for missing a team meeting). Gordon also got yet another ding when he tripped early in the third quarter and lost most of a front tooth to the hardwood.
The Pelicans leapt out to an early 13-2 lead, but the game never really seemed to hang in the balance for the Clippers. Perhaps a little bit of the deficit could be attributed to lackadaisical play, but really, New Orleans was just hitting shots, including a silly Norris Cole stepback bomb over DeAndre Jordan (which put them at 9/10 from the field as a team).
Despite all this, the Clippers remained unfazed, making hay on the offensive glass and in transition to negate the Pelicans' advantages. By the end of the first quarter, they had made it a one-point affair, and the game remained within single digits for the rest of the contest. An all-bench unit showed some good ball movement and played well in the second quarter till the starters returned, and then Los Angeles went on an 11-0 run and threatened to bust the game open.
Instead, the Pelicans responded with a 10-0 run of their own to take a 53-50 lead into the half, and it became evident that they wouldn't go gently into that good night, so long as a playoff spot remained within their sights (although it's becoming increasingly unlikely, as they've now dropped three games behind the Thunder after today's loss and OKC's win over Miami).
The start of the third mirrored the first, as the Pelicans took a 59-52 lead early behind Davis jumpers. But the Clippers nipped this attempt at a run in the bud, and the teams traded buckets the rest of the third quarter before Los Angeles took a four-point lead into the fourth. The bench wasn't nearly as impressive in their second appearance, but treaded enough water for the starters to come in and pull this one out.
The game turned on a horrible call by the officials, who nixed a thunderous putback dunk by Davis for offensive goaltending (the ball was clearly out of the cylinder). Had it counted, the game would have been tied at 85 midway through the 4th, but instead an incensed Monty Williams picked up a tech and the Clippers scored on the ensuing possession to push their lead to five. From there, they began to pull away, and New Orleans could never come within six again. They had a chance in the final minute after a Gordon 3 cut the lead to 102-96, but he missed an open look from the same spot on the following possession and the rest of the game was just formalities.
Anthony Davis had another star turn today, showing no signs of being hindered by the ankle injury that had kept him out of the Pels' last few outings. Early in the game he effortlessly swished jumpers over Clipper bigs, and like the rest of the Pelicans the rim constantly gave way to his silky smooth advances. He finished with a now-ordinary 26-12-5 (with a pair of blocks and steals each), and really should have had far more if the Pelicans knew how to get the ball to him. Apart from a botched lob in the final minute when the game was already out of reach, he finished 11-12, numbers that probably deserved him a few more FGAs.
On the Clippers' side, Chris Paul once again masterfully controlled the proceedings. For much of the game, he effortlessly probed the New Orleans defense, taking the many midrange jumpers given to him and continuing to look for his shot. On the defensive end, he hounded and outclassed poor Norris Cole, picking up four steals and dissecting the Pelicans on the many ensuing fastbreaks. And he showcased his wiles on multiple occasions, including one instance in the third quarter where Matt Barnes lasered a pass into the paint where Paul was waiting. Knowing that Anthony Davis was lurking and hoping to swat him from behind, CP3 hesitated just long enough for Davis to bump into him, then used his posterior to create space, a foul, and an and-one. He finished with 23 points, and supplemented that with 11 points and 7 rebounds.
Even with all those numbers, it might surprise you that Paul only took one shot in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Clippers ran their offense through Blake Griffin down the stretch, and he vindicated that faith time and time again, either overpowering whatever outmatched opponent New Orleans tried to throw at him down in the post or kicking it out for an open shot, usually drilled by the likes of J.J. Redick.
Speaking of Redick, he continued his stretch of impressive play with another 20-point outing, his fourth straight and seventh in the last ten games. During that timespan, he's averaged 22.3 points and played as well as we've seen him in a Clippers uniform. As it's not the result of a crazy hot shooting streak, we can hope that this will continue into the postseason and after Jamal Crawford returns.
Griffin has a history of outmuscling and troubling Anthony Davis in their matchups, and that was on display again today. Critics of Griffin's footwork were probably silenced on one play midway through the second, when he completely lost Davis with his array of fakes before stepping in for an easy layup. He again looked confident and poised taking the outside jumper, and just a week after his return he's back to his usual caliber of ball.
Among other players, Nate Robinson had arguably his best game as a Clipper today, chipping in seven points with a few assists and steals, including a backcourt theft. The rest of the bench didn't really stick out, apart from Big Baby, exuberant in his return as always.
With the win, the Clippers get a roadtrip to the East Coast, facing two teams in hot pursuit of #1 (in the draft lottery) before taking on a decent Boston team. They have a chance to string together a few more wins here, adding to their current four-game streak, before a pivotal back-to-back next week with Golden State and Portland. The schedule that had gone against Los Angeles for so long has finally turned in their favor, with a favorable remaining slate giving them an excellent chance at the 3-seed (and with a little more luck, a chance to match their franchise-record win total from last season).