Outside of a second-quarter spurt that turned an 8-point deficit into a 5-point half-time lead, the Clippers didn’t give the home crowd much to cheer about in the first 36 minutes of tonight’s game. As I predicted, Aaron Gordon roasted LAC’s small perimeter defense with 25 points heading into the fourth, and the Clippers couldn’t get enough scoring to create separation. Their guards—Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and Austin Rivers—all contributed, but they couldn’t get enough production from the frontcourt or the bench.
They just needed a little mo.
Instead, they got a big Mo. Marreese Speights, after not attempting a shot in the first three quarters, had 13 points final frame, 7 of them early to spark a run by the Clippers’ bench. Raymond Felton also got to the rim twice for four points as the Clippers built a buffer for their starters. When Chris Paul returned for the last 7 minutes of the quarter, a 1-point deficit had turned into a four-point lead.
A large part of the Clippers’ offensive struggles can be attributed to cold shooting from deep, and careless turnovers. Chris Paul missed all four of his shots from deep before a last-minute dagger, Austin Rivers was just 1-3, and J.J. Redick was 3-9, though that includes a big-time shot to double the Clippers’ 3-point lead in the final minutes of the game. In total, the Clippers were 9-26 from deep—not a horrible night, but certainly not where they’d like to be.
The Clippers also committed 21 turnovers, led by Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul with 5 each. Crawford particularly was careless with the ball and several of his miscues led to uncontested layups for Orlando.
Particularly impressive on L.A.’s side were the contributions of J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers, and not just in the scoring column. They added 5 assists each, and Redick contributed 6 rebounds to Austin’s 4. These are two of the worst-rebounding wings in the league, so having them step up on the glass is a big-time development for the Clippers. DeAndre Jordan also tallied another 20-rebound game, the 36th of his career. That moves him ahead of Shaq, and into a tie with Kevin Garnett.
Fortunately for the Clippers, the Aaron Gordon show slowed down as the game progressed. After 18 first-quarter points, Gordon finished with 28—still a monster game and one of his best of the season, but not enough volume or consistency to lift the Magic to victory.
Going forward, the Clippers will have to play better to keep this winning streak rolling and make up ground on the Houston Rockets. Houston’s loss tonight in Minnesota, combined with this Clippers win, pulled L.A. one notch closer to the 3-seed in the loss column. Still, the margin of error is slim and the Clippers will need to continue capitalizing on any Houston losses if they hope to avoid a second-round match-up with the Golden State Warriors.
LAC will take on the Lakers on Saturday before a tough game against Oklahoma City next Monday. If the Clippers can win that game, they should be expected to run the table and enter January 28th’s contest against the Warriors with an 11-game winning streak.