Led by 27 points from future Hall-of-Famer Austin Rivers and bolstered by some clutch buckets from Jamal Crawford, the undermanned L.A. Clippers earned themselves a 115-105 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
Rivers was in command offensively throughout the game, and the Clips stymied Atlanta’s offense throughout the first half. Things got a bit dicey at times during the final 24 minutes, but the Clips were able to ward off a late charge from the Hawks to snap a two-game losing skid.
Crawford shot 9-20 from the floor and hit a slew of huge shots to help keep the Clippers’ heads above water as Atlanta tried to mount a surge in the fourth. He connected on 45 percent of his shots in this one, which was his best shooting performance percentage-wise since January 11th against Orlando. Jamal’s nine FGM were his most since connecting on 11 shots against the Nuggets way back on the day after Christmas. Good to have you back, Jams.
The Hawks got a combined 46 points from Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder along with 19 points, eight boards and seven assists from Paul Millsap. Even so, a stellar first half from the Clippers gave them one of their most impressive Ws of the year.
The defensive effort was stellar in the first half and the Clippers weren’t giving the Hawks any clean looks. It helped that the Hawks came out and played as though they were all hungover, and L.A. bounced back in a big way from the disappointing effort in Denver the other night.
Luc Mbah a Moute was vital on the defensive side of the floor and finished with a game-high four blocked shots, as well. This was an excellent team effort, and the Clippers deserved the win from the jump.
The shorthanded Clippers got off to a relatively quick start in the first. Austin Rivers connected on four of his first five looks from the field, including a couple of threes, to score 10 quick points. Dwight Howard picked up a pair of quick fouls, forcing him to go to the bench sooner than anticipated.
Luc Mbah a Moute of all people was also picking up slack on both ends. He was aggressive attacking the bucket and drew a pair of fouls to get to the line. Luc finished the first with eight points, which is two above his season average for an entire game.
Mike Budenholzer didn’t waste much time in hacking DeAndre Jordan in an attempt to slow the Clips’ offensive flow just ahead of the two-minute mark of the period. Mercifully, Jordan knocked down his first two free throws, temporarily putting an end to the strategy.
L.A. was giving a strong defensive effort, too, and limited the Hawks to just 36 percent shooting from the floor over the first 12 minutes.
A smooth jumper from Jamal Crawford (really!) followed by a follow-up from Wesley Johnson (seriously!) capped an 11-1 run and pushed the Clips’ lead to 12 early in the second. L.A. was working with a lineup of Rivers plus four bench guys against a strange ATL five-man group that was struggling to find the bottom of the net.
One wouldn’t imagine lineup of Howard-Kent Bazemore-Mike Dunleavy-Malcolm Delaney-Mike Scott has seen much time this season, especially because Dunleavy has been a member of the Hawks for about a week. And it showed. Nobody really looked like they knew where they needed to be, and that lineup doesn’t include a single player you can look to to get consistent buckets.
A Mo Buck3ts extended the lead to 14 before he picked up two fouls defending Howard, prompting DeAndre Jordan’s return to the floor. Budenholzer finally realized that aforementioned lineup was terrible and countered with Dennis Schroder and Paul Millsap. Crawford then halted his 0-17 stretch from three-point range by nailing one from the corner to extend LAC’s run to 21-4.
Rivers was just making everything happen offensively. He was foaming with confidence and hitting those kind of step-back shots he would normally brick. Some of it was a bit ISO-heavy, but the Clips obviously need all the offense they can get without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out there.
Of course, immediately following a great sequence, Rivers came down awkwardly after missing a layup and appeared to turn his left ankle. He would get up and walk immediately to the locker room, because the one thing the Clippers need right now is more injuries to key guys, right?
Fortunately, J.J. Redick started to heat up. He knocked down three consecutive triples in the second and trailed only Rivers in scoring for L.A. at the break with 13 points.
Mbah a Moute started and was tasked with harassing Paul Millsap, and that’s exactly what he did. Millsap did finish the first half with 10 points, but shot just 2-6 from the floor and was largely a non-factor offensively.
Comprehensively, it was one of the best halves of basketball we’ve seen from this shorthanded version of the Clips in quite some time. They held a commanding 58-40 lead at the break.
Austin returned to start the second half, though, and looked no worse for the wear as he began the third with a driving layup along the baseline. He then had his next attempt swatted to the moon by Millsap, so I guess things evened out in the end.
The Clips’ continued excellent defense was forcing the Hawks into tough attempts every time down the floor. And on the other end LAC was getting whatever it wanted. Nearly all of their shots were wide open, while Atlanta had to work incredibly hard just to get a contested look at the rim.
Maybe the Hawks all went out on the town last night to celebrate the Falcons’ NFC title? This clearly wasn’t the same team that has gone 8-2 over the last 10 games to climb into the top half of the East, that’s for sure.
Toward the end of the third, though, ATL flickered to life. A quick 9-2 run capped by a long ball from Millsap closed the deficit to 15. Redick coughed the ball up in the lane before an and-one by Bazemore brought the home squad to within 12. Back-to-back three-point plays from Howard via Schroder’s penetration brought the Hawks to within double-digits for the first time in quite a while.
Everything that had been going right for the Clippers was suddenly flipped. There was no flow offensively, while the Hawks were suddenly rejuvenated on both ends. Schroder decided to start relentlessly attacking the lane, and the Clips couldn’t stop him at all.
LAC’s offense toward the end of the third was essentially just a bunch of Jamal Crawford isolation possessions, but they were actually working. Jamal drilled his patented contested 17-footer to end the third to restore LAC’s double-digit advantage at 85-75 heading into the final 12 minutes.
The Hawks managed to score 35 points in the third after mustering just 40 over the first two periods, combined. Warning shots fired, indeed.
Raymond Felton got called for a phantom shooting foul for his fifth infraction of the game, and Atlanta quickly scored seven straight points to cut the Clipper lead back to eight with just under nine to play.
Noted NBA superstar Austin Rivers subsequently drilled his fourth three-ball of the game to put L.A. back up double digits before Millsap responded with a triple of his own. Wesley Johnson (!) hit a shot to put Lawler’s Law into effect, and then Delaney drilled one from deep to cut the Clipper lead back to eight.
Millsap appeared to take a blow to the right elbow about midway through the frame, forcing him to seek medical attention from the bench. Regardless, Atlanta continued to chip away at the Clips’ lead. A layup from Thabo Sefolosha made it a six-point game before Crawford responded with a bucket of his own. Schroder then drilled a miracle three, but Jamal was there again on the other side to make it a seven-point lead for the Clippers with three minutes to play.
The fourth quarter eventually turned into the Crawford vs. Bazemore show. The two continued to trade buckets with a Bazemore layup on the break cutting the L.A. lead to just six with about 90 seconds left.
Crawford finally missed on the subsequent possession only to have the rebound bounce right to D.J. A beautiful offensive sequence then resulted in a wide open look for Rivers from deep, and he canned the dagger triple. A Felton three one possession later extended the lead back to 10 with 30 second left, and it was curtains for the Hawks.
Atlanta has been one of the league’s best defensive teams this season, which makes this victory all the more impressive. The Clips were flying around and playing with great energy on both ends of the floor, and the Hawks were unable to respond after LAC surprised them with an early sucker punch.
This was an uplifting win considering Blake Griffin is expected to make his return tomorrow night in Philadelphia. The Sixers have been red-hot, but they’re expected to be without Joel Embiid. LAC will have a golden opportunity to build a little momentum here and try to gain some ground on Houston for the No. 3 seed in the West.
The Clips and 76ers will get things underway tomorrow from Philly at 4pm Pacific. Let’s make it two in a row, shall we?