Clippers basketball hasn't always been fun the last few years, and it certainly wasn't most of the night.
But tonight the Clippers turned back the clock to channel the energy of some of their greatest comebacks in recent years — Game 1 in Memphis, Game 4 against OKC, Game 7 against San Antonio — and managed to pull another rabbit out of their ass.
This game was perhaps more reminiscent of a regular-season win — mid-January 2014, no Chris Paul, a rivalry game against a Dallas Mavericks team at the height of the Blake-Griffin-as-heel era. That game had some of the same frustrating lows as this one (the Clippers gave up a double-digit lead in the second half and were down by 17 with four-and-a-half minutes left) and some of the same dizzying highs (buoyed that night by a tremendous J.J. Redick performance that's become par for the course in 2016). Like with OKC tonight, mental mistakes by the other team (Dallas committed technicals and flagrants) let the Clippers back into it.
Let's get this straight: Los Angeles had no business winning this game. They came in already down two starters (including LRMAM, who played fantastic defense on Kevin Durant in the previous game). They played lackadaisical defense and couldn't grab a rebound to save their life through three quarters (on one memorable possession, Kyle Singler beat out multiple Clippers for an offensive rebound not once, but twice). Well into the fourth quarter, they were missing all manner of easy shots, layups kept rimming out and threes wouldn't fall.
Jeff Green was trash, Paul Pierce was trash. Chris Paul didn't hit a field goal till late into the first half, at which point the Clippers were already down 20. J.J. Redick left briefly with a back contusion (I'm starting to worry about him and Paul, who both seem to pick up an extra bump or bruise every game). Austin Rivers played decent defense but couldn't buy a shot on offense (as was the case with most of the bench).
There was a point in the second half where the Clippers bench was 6-24 from the field (in addition to Jeff Green's 0-7). Every time the team showed signs of life and briefly threatened to come back, they were rebuffed either by their own bumbling ineptitude or an opportunistic Thunder team. In the nightmare of a first quarter, they struggled on both ends of the floor. In the second quarter, they played defense but couldn't score. In the third quarter, they scored but couldn't get stops.
Even in the fourth quarter, the bench cut it to 11 and had a chance to cut it to single digits, before falling back down 16. Then Chris Paul returned and set up Cole Aldrich up on multiple possessions, Wes Johnson went nuclear, DeAndre Jordan returned and made some huge plays down the stretch. Suddenly, Oklahoma City was the team that couldn't make a shot, couldn't get out of its own way. Turnover after turnover, and I watched with bated breath as the Clippers suddenly continued to convert the opportunities they had been fumbling all game long. They outscored the Thunder 35-13 in the final frame, ending the game on a 22-3 run. Wow.
I don't know what to make of this game. I don't know how to even react to this game. Does it say something about the psyche of either team? Not really. But the optics of it all are great for the Clippers, who have long been pigeonholed as a combustible pseudo-contender prone to crunch-time disaster. They've had big comeback wins this year, games they didn't deserve to win (versus Orlando and at Detroit come to mind). But this was the kind of game they hadn't had in a long time, a memorable comeback in a nationally televised game against one of the NBA's elite teams.
Wins like this don't come around quite that often. But try to savor them when they do, if you're not still sitting in disbelief like I am.
UPDATE: A few hours later, I am no longer in disbelief and very much savoring this win!