In a game that didn’t feel quiet as close as the final score indicates, the Clippers fended off the Charlotte Hornets behind a big game from Blake Griffin and stellar play from the second unit. Griffin was just two assists shy of his second triple double in three games (20 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists) and the suddenly red-hot Jamal Crawford (22 points, 5-of-8 from three) led a bench unit that built sizable leads in each half. DeAndre Jordan got off to a slow start, as three fouls limited him to only ten minutes and four rebounds in the first half, but he made his presence felt after halftime, patrolling the paint and finishing with 16 rebounds. In his absence, the never-shy, always-ready Mo Speights seized his opportunity and poured in eight huge points that kept the Clippers afloat.
It looked like another off night for Austin Rivers after he scored just two points in the first half, but the junior Rivers turned it on after the break, splashing bailout three after bailout three and finishing with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting (4-of-6 from deep). Last, but certainly not least, Raymond Felton stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Though nine points isn’t his most impressive scoring output of the season, he bolstered his reputation for showing up when the Clippers need it most, stymying two separate Hornets’ runs with huge buckets on separate occasions in the fourth quarter.
For a team with only one win in their last ten games, the Charlotte Hornets played with plenty of fight in a game in which their leader, Kemba Walker, struggled mightily. The first-time All Star shot a ghastly 4-of-18 from the field in a game-high 42 minutes, but fellow starters Nicolas Batum (25 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists) and Frank Kaminsky (20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) were there to pick up the slack. Though they missed Cody Zeller, who was ruled out just before game time with a nagging quad injury, Frank the Tank filled in admirably, stressing the Clippers defense by stretching the floor and scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter, and faring just a bit better than Miles Plumlee when it came to protecting the paint (evidence below).
That’s just filthy.
Marco Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb combined for 30 points off the Hornets’ bench, but with no other help it just wasn’t enough to compete with the Clippers’ well-rounded attack. Steve Clifford must be looking for answers given Charlotte’s dramatic skid, and while tonight he likely doesn’t need to look further than Kemba’s dud, this looks like a team that has every capacity to turn it around after the All Star break. With hard-nosed defenders like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams in the starting lineup they don’t pack much of a scoring punch, but it’s a veteran group that plays smart, takes care of the ball (only 7 turnovers tonight), and plays with effort on both ends. I’d be surprised not to see them in the Eastern Conference playoffs when all is said and done.
That Looked Like Actual Defense!
In a merciful turn of events, the Clippers looked to be in much better control on the defensive end of the floor. Rotations were more crisp than they have been and there were significantly fewer lapses on the defensive glass. The backcourt did a solid job corralling Kemba and forcing him into difficult shots, instead giving up low-percentage looks to MKG and Marvin Williams (though they did manage to find the net on several of them). The Clips allowed Charlotte to inch their way above the 100-point mark in the last couple of minutes, but the defensive effort was worlds better than we’ve grown accustomed to since Chris Paul’s injury.
Dominating in the Paint
We knew coming into the game, Cody Zeller or not, that the Clippers should have a clear advantage in the paint, and they made the Hornets pay, winning the battle down low by a 40-26 margin even though DeAndre didn’t make much of an offensive impact. Instead, Blake was successful playing bully ball and players like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made smart, incisive cuts that yielded easy looks at the rim. In a game where the three-ball was just about a wash between the two teams, the Clippers’ frontcourt advantage was just too much for the Hornets to overcome.
This was an encouraging win that should provide the Clippers with plenty of positive takeaways heading into a difficult matchup with the Utah Jazz on Monday night. They didn’t play their best game, but they fought hard and withstood several runs as the Hornets fought their way back and got the Charlotte crowd involved. Blake looked extremely comfortable running the offense and, if anything, the Clippers need to make sure he’s touching the ball even more. Jamal Crawford’s stretch of poor play is in the distant past and the instant offense that he provides, especially when he’s aggressive in going to the cup, is invaluable to this squad. When they’re locked in defensively, communicating effectively and rotating with conviction, they’re tough to beat. The defense will face a stiff test against the surging Jazz, who boast a top-ten offense, in what should be an incredibly entertaining game to close out the road trip. Until Monday, though, the Clippers should enjoy this one and watch that Blake dunk a few hundred more times. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.