In a game that the Los Angeles Clippers absolutely needed to win, the team used a late run in the fourth quarter to finally retake the lead and keep the Denver Nuggets in their rear view mirror. The win allowed the Clippers to secure homecourt advantage in the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs no matter who their opponent might be. That’s probably the biggest takeaway from this game as a whole despite the way the team played and seemed to sleepwalk through large stretches of this game. It wasn’t a pretty game. In fact, it was pretty tough to watch at times. But a win is a win and a win was what was required.
|Los Angeles Clippers||31||23||29||27||110|
After a knotted first quarter that saw each team put up 31 points, and a second quarter that saw the Clippers bench play like – well – the Clippers bench, the two teams went into halftime separated by three points in Denver’s favor. The third quarter was the turnaround for the Clippers, thanks to a late run that allowed them to basically take control and look like they might put an end to this rather somewhat easily. Yet that didn’t happen. At all. The Nuggets took control back and led by six points with four minutes to go until the Clippers finally showed up. What came afterwards was a Blake Griffin and-one, Jamal Crawford and-one, two huge DeAndre Jordan free throws after Melvin Hunt decided to hack him for the 30th time, a Chris Paul three, a Blake Griffin free throw, and a Chris Paul layup that put the Clippers up 7 with 1:41 to play. The team ultimately cruised to the finish line and a 110-103 victory.
Long story short, the Clippers did what they were supposed to do tonight. They didn’t look pretty but pretty doesn’t matter half the time as the season is winding down and you’re just trying to get to the finish line. Especially against a depleted team that you’re facing for the second time in two weeks and you stomped in their house that previous meeting. Much like the quick second meeting against the Lakers recently, the Clippers just walked through the game doing their thing and pulled it out in the end. It happens. You deal with it. The team didn’t play well tonight but well wasn’t needed. All the key players showed up late and that’s the biggest part.
The only answer the Clippers had for stopping Wilson Chandler’s onslaught – he finished with a game-high 32 points – was when he went to the bench or ended up in foul trouble. The only answer the Clippers had for stopping Kenneth Faried’s hustle and determination on the offensive glass was when he went to the bench or ended up in foul trouble. The Clippers simply didn’t have much of an answer for either of those two guys. Thankfully, the rest of the Denver Nuggets didn’t exactly tear STAPLES Center down to its foundation. And despite how well the Nuggets played for a large part of this game, the Clippers were constantly with them and never allowed Denver to get up by double-digits.
DeAndre Jordan finished tonight with 20 points and a game-high 21 rebounds to go with 4 blocks and 3 assists. While he did go just 4-for-10 from the line, he still nailed two crucial free throws late in the game after Melvin Hunt ordered Joffrey Lauvergne to go up and give him a hug. That was a ridiculously huge moment and helped put the Clippers on the path to winning. Unfortunately, there was some bad. While he did finish with 21 rebounds, he let Kenneth Faried routinely beat him to spots and just failed to box Faried out a lot of the time. That can’t happen. He still played a good game, though.
Blake Griffin had himself a game with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 blocks on 7-for-18 shooting and 8-for-9 from the line. The interesting part was how he actually did a good job boxing Faried out down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Denver murdered the Clippers on the glass – totaling 27 second chance points – but Griffin’s ability to match Faried’s intensity late in the game certainly helped the team. That and his and-one to get the crowd going. Griffin’s still Griffin. That’s the best part about him since he’s come back from that injury.
J.J. Redick didn’t shoot the ball as well as we know he can but he still had a good game, ending with 20 points. I don’t know how much he’ll do this in the playoffs but taking early shot clock threes in transition is starting to become the norm with him. If this is something he carries into the playoffs, then it could open up more things for other guys if defenders start to cheat on Redick. His ability as a passer, especially off the dribble, can catch defenses by surprise and make teams pay for overhelping onto him on the perimeter.
Matt Barnes started the game well but quickly saw that go south. It didn’t matter who he guarded early on. They were taking him to task. He was trying his best to keep up but, ultimately, frustration got the better part of him and resulted in a technical foul as he kicked at the ball and slammed the stanchion with his fist. He was yanked late in the fourth quarter for Jamal Crawford, who made his only bucket as an and-one to tie the game, and finished the game on the bench. His three-point stroke has come and gone a little bit but that’s par for the course with him. Team just has to hope it returns in the next few days.
This wasn’t a quintessential Chris Paul game. This was probably an average game by his standards. He finished with 17 points, game-high 9 assists, and 7 rebounds to go with 2 steals on 6-for-11 shooting. At one point, he hadn’t attempted a shot for roughly 21 minutes of game time. And then he hit a huge three, got a layup, and hit four free throws all while the STAPLES Center crowd serenaded him in “MVP” chants. This is the best Chris Paul the Clippers have seen over a full season. It’s nice. He’s the leader.
To round it out, the Clippers bench was the Clippers bench. Crawford started off of 0-for-5 before hitting that and-one runner, Austin Rivers was actually good in this game and went 3-for-3 which also featured a dunk. Nothing else from the bench really stood out except for Glen Davis getting hacked after DeAndre Jordan left the game in the third quarter. Davis went 7-for-8 from the line. For Denver, Gary Harris seemed to play well. Especially in the first half. He finished with 13 points. Ex-Clipper Randy Foye went 6-for-21 overall and 3-for-12 from three to finish with 16 points while also having 8 assists and 7 rebounds. J.J. Hickson had 11 rebounds, Will Barton had 11 points and 8 rebounds, Jusuf Nurkic saw too few minutes, and Joffrey Lauvergne was used simply just for fouls.
First things first, it doesn’t matter who the Clippers will play in the first round. They’ll have homecourt for that series no matter what. They cannot finish any lower than the 5-seed due to owning the conference record tiebreaker with the Memphis Grizzlies. The 2-seed is still in play but requires both Houston and San Antonio losing on the final day of the season. The team currently resides in the 3-seed and will be the 3-seed, at worst, if they beat the Phoenix Suns tomorrow night. That’s how the scenarios shape up for them. They can’t be the 6-seed and they can’t be the 4-seed. They can either be the 2-seed, 3-seed, or 5-seed.
No matter what happens tomorrow night, realize that the Clippers are a 55-win team this year despite having a bench that was utterly atrocious and had to endure playing without Blake Griffin during a brutal stretch of the season that would have seen most other teams fold shop. This team fought. Hard. Embrace that. Love that. At the end of the day, this is one of the five best teams in basketball this season and gave us a thrilling story nearly every night on the court. There’s the whole “could, woulda, shoulda” stuff in regards to some games but they are their record. And if they have to play the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round as the 3-6 matchup then sobeit. Either way, it’s been a great season. It’s their third straight season with at least 55 wins. Their most wins prior to this recent three year stretch? 49. It’s okay to enjoy the wins once in a while.