Offense was in short supply this Saturday afternoon at STAPLES Center. Blake Griffin, Al Jefferson, and Nic Batum were all sidelined by injury. With defense ruling the day, and each possession being decided by the smallest of margins, the Clippers prevailed by employing the two best players on the floor: Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.
Charlotte deserves credit for making the Clippers work for their eighth consecutive win. The Hornets looked determined to avoid a streak of their own, but determination alone wasn't enough to escape their sixth straight defeat. After entering halftime down 3, the Clippers matched their visitors' defensive intensity to run up a score that belied the true competitiveness of most of this game.
Now, if you'd only seen the first quarter, you would've figured this one for a rout. JJ Redick ran away from an overmatched Jeremy Lin at every turn, and he, Paul, and Jamal Crawford combined to score 25 of the Clippers' 27 to take a 9-point lead after one.
Kemba Walker, who entered the game on a scoring tear, was bottled up everywhere on the court, with the Clippers successfully trapping every screen and roll that didn't involve DeAndre. Kemba finished the game with just 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
The second quarter was the brightest quarter for Charlotte. Their bench unit was longer, more athletic, and more energetic than the Clippers'. They forced turnovers, rumbled into the paint, and forced Crawford and friends into contested jumpers, most of which missed.
The Hornets' defense maintained its success even as the Clipper starters returned, and Charlotte Head Coach Steve Clifford's decision to switch P.J. Hairston onto Redick kept the home offense from getting unlocked. It was the only quarter in which the Hornets would outscore the Clippers.
The second half was simpler: the Clippers matched the Hornets' energy, allowing Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan to take over the game. DeAndre was unstoppable. He looked completely at home in Doc Rivers' now conservative defensive scheme, taking away everything at the hoop without sacrificing rebounding position. DeAndre would finish with 11 points and 19 rebounds, 7 on the offensive end, where he used his size and energy to extend several Clipper possessions that had been stymied by the swarming Hornets.
Paul was also excellent. He led the Clippers with 25 points, and added 7 rebounds and 7 assists. He turned the ball over 5 times, but errant passing was common in this game. Each team had several glaring miscommunications. Perhaps it was the early tip.
Jeremy Lin shined through 41 minutes for the Hornets, although he took a beating doing it. He rolled an ankle chasing Redick in the third quarter, resulting in a noticeable limp for the duration of the game, and took a blow to the face which bloodied his nose in the fourth. With so much attention paid to his backcourt mate Kemba, Lin took advantage for 26 points. Jeremy Lamb more than chipped in with 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.
Charlotte didn't concede a free throw in the entire first half. According to the Prime Ticket telecast, that was only the third half in which the Clippers failed to get to the free throw line in the past 14 seasons... Another fun Prime Ticket stat: This is the Clippers' seventh win streak of seven or more games in the past four seasons. They managed just two such streaks in the prior 37 (!) seasons... Paul Pierce shot a miserable 0-for-8 from three-point range, but he may have used all of his legs up blocking two shots. More amazingly, he blocked those two shots while jumping maybe a combined 20 inches... Austin Rivers and Wes Johnson struggled mightily with their shots but contributed heavily on the defensive end. Wes bothered the much taller Frank Kaminsky all game long.