In an ugly/weirdly exciting affair, the Los Angeles Clippers slipped by the Atlanta Hawks 85-83 at Philips Arena Wednesday night. Despite shooting just 38% from the floor and 18% from three-point range, L.A. was able to finish their five-game road trip on a winning note thanks in large part to sloppy play from Atlanta throughout.
The Clippers got off to a rather inauspicious start to this one. They missed four layups in the earlygoing, including two from Chris Paul. CP3 struggled to find his stroke after his big game in Indiana on Tuesday, finishing just 5-for-15, including 0-for-4 from deep. The quality of looks deteriorated as the quarter went on, culminating in a couple of long-two misses by Jamal Crawford and Wesley Johnson. Meanwhile, Atlanta's bench provided a spark, going on a 12-0 run that included triples from both Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schröder to give ATL a 23-17 cushion after one.
The bench was able to turn things around a bit in the second. Crawford was carrying most of the offensive load, contributing nine points in the quarter on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor. Johnson was also good on both ends of the floor as well as on the glass, chipping-in with six boards and four steals in the first half alone. LAC was able to extend their lead to 37-32 following a CP3-to-D.J. lob, only for the Hawks to go on a 13-6 run to close the half.
Paul finished the half with just two points on 1-of-8 shooting, and didn't make that shot until the 1:36 mark of the second frame. The Clips connected on just 39% of their shots through the half, though the Hawks were unable to take advantage, leading by just two at the break. If you have the stomach for it, take a look at the Clipper shot chart from the first 24 minutes (via NBA.com):
That's brutal, especially right at the rim, where they were just 10-for-23. The quality shots were there, the Clippers were just unable to put the ball through the hoop.
Following the break, the game started to finally get a rhythm. Following his four-point first half, J.J. Redick came out hot by hitting each of the first three Clipper buckets of the period, including a pair of threes. Unfortunately, L.A. was struggling to stop the Hawks on the other end. ATL got several second-chance opportunities as the Clippers apparently forgot how to rebound. These are typically killers, especially when you consider that the Hawks were the NBA's worst offensive rebounding team coming into the game. Atlanta collected six OREBs in the third after having picked up just one in the entire first half.
Things got a bit dicey as the Hawks extended their lead to 59-52 (the largest of the game) before the Clippers came right back on the shoulders of Chris Paul. The Clips' PG finally found the touch, scoring seven points over a four minute span to help close the gap. L.A. closed the third on a 10-3 run, and trailed by two at 66-64 heading into the final period. The combination of turnovers and awful shooting by the Hawks helped get the Clippers right back into the game.
The Clipper bench continued its excellent form early in the fourth, wrestling the lead back from Atlanta following an Austin Rivers layup. The Hawks were completely stagnant and brick-tastic on offense. From the 3:34 mark of the third until the 4:09 mark of the fourth, the Hawks scored a grand total of three points. Unfortunately, the Clippers weren't a whole lot better on offense. LAC held a 71-69 lead when Paul and Jordan returned to the game with about seven minutes to go.
Atlanta started hacking D.J. with just over three to play, but he went 4-for-4 on consecutive trips which (thankfully) put an end to that. The teams would trade buckets until an absurd, off-balance Kyle Korver long-ball put the Hawks on top 82-81 with 24 seconds left, prompting a quick timeout from Doc Rivers. Instead of running clock and getting a late shot, though, LAC went into their offense almost immediately after the timeout. CP3 was able to weave through the defense before finding Jordan for an uncontested dunk to seesaw the Clips back in front, 83-82. Paul, the savvy veteran that he is, actually pulled Al Horford away from Jordan on the play, leaving D.J. free for the go-ahead bucket.
Paul Millsap wound up getting a good look about four feet from the basket on the ensuing possession but left it short. Two Crawford free throws and a Horford free throw later, the Clips nearly blew the game completely when Paul Pierce threw an awful inbounds pass that gave the ball back to Atlanta with six seconds left. Fortunately for L.A., Millsap missed another look near the rim and time expired, giving the Clippers an 85-83 victory.
Calling this game "sloppy" is an insult to the word "sloppy", but the Clippers will take it, of course. Crawford led all scorers with 21 points in the game, and, frankly, was the only Clipper that was able to consistently score. Paul finished with 11 points and 10 assists on just 5-for-15 shooting from the field, while Redick chimed-in with 12 on 4-for-10. Jordan picked up another double-double, going for 13 points and 19 rebounds, including 7-of-12 from the stripe. Impressive!
The Hawks' offense looked dreadful, but a lot of that had to do with active and aggressive LAC defense. Luc Mbah a Moute was particularly excellent when matched up against Millsap for most of the game. Millsap converted just 6-of-14 shots for 14 points and wasn't really ever able to get things going offensively. All five Hawks starters wound up in double figures, but Jeff Teague was the high man with 16. Horford shot 6-for-13, while Kent Bazemore made just 5-of-15.
Atlanta's bench was also a complete non-factor, which is another credit to the way the Clip reserves played in this one. L.A.'s backups outscored Atlanta's 39-13 and helped swing the game during both of their stints on the floor as a unit. The Hawks doubled the Clippers in the turnover department (22 to 11), and L.A. racked up 16 steals, led by six from Johnson. The Hawks shot the ball slightly better than L.A. did (41%), but they were doomed by the turnovers. Sometimes doing the little things better is what will win you a game like this, and the Clippers were able to do just enough to pull this one out.
LAC impressively finished the road trip with a 3-2 record and improved to 13-3 during this stretch without Blake Griffin. Following the club's first win in Atlanta since February of 2009, the Clippers (30-16) will head home to face the lowly Lakers (9-38) Friday night at STAPLES Center.