It took three quarters to shake off the all-too-familiar matinee malaise, but the Los Angeles Clippers rode a dominant fourth quarter to a convincing victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Big Three was on full display, as Chris Paul (30 points, 7 assists), DeAndre Jordan (19 points, 20 rebounds, 3 blocks), and Blake Griffin (15 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) stuffed the stat sheet and carried the Clippers to their fourth victory in the last five games.
The Clippers started the first quarter with three turnovers that killed some early momentum, but played very efficiently on the offensive end once they began taking care of the ball, shooting 63% from the field. Unfortunately, the same efficiency was nowhere to be found defensively, as they gave the 76ers anything they wanted from deep. Despite a slow start from Dario Saric and only four points in the paint, Philadelphia hung around thanks to 6-of-12 three-point shooting and a 4/4 start from apparent Clippers’ kryptonite, Richaun Holmes.
The pace slowed to begin the second quarter, as the teams traded buckets while the Clippers looked sluggish on both ends of the floor. It wasn’t until midway through the quarter that the Clips showed any real fight, going on an 8-0 run thanks to some aggressive play from Blake Griffin and the wizardry of Chris Paul. In addition, DeAndre Jordan abused the Philadelphia big men in the paint, heading to the locker room with a double-double already under his belt (15 points, 11 rebounds) on 6-of-6 shooting. Both teams shared the ball effectively, piling up an identical 17 assists on 21 made field goals, and though it felt as though the Clippers had several opportunities to blow the game wide open, the 76ers’ timely shooting from downtown allowed them to take a one-point lead, 57-56, at the half.
A tired Clippers squad took the court after the break, perhaps a consequence of a fast-paced first half, and quickly allowed Philadelphia to shoot 7/8 from the field to begin the quarter. As a general sense of defensive apathy pushed the 76ers’ lead upwards, an angry Chris Paul decided to take matters into his own hands, hustling, scrapping, and scoring seven of nine Clippers’ points in a stretch that dissolved a six-point Philadelphia lead. It was an incredible, necessary effort, as Chris accounted for 11 of the Clippers’ 19 third quarter points. Undeterred, the 76ers held the Clips scoreless in the final three minutes of the quarter and took a 79-75 lead going into the final period.
As they have shown a tendency to do in recent games, first against Chicago and Boston, then today against Philadelphia, the Clippers saved their best for last, outscoring the 76ers, 37-21, in the fourth. Thanks to an earlier-than-usual third quarter exit, Blake Griffin returned to the game less than a minute into the quarter (staggering!), and despite a quiet start to the game, served as the catalyst in a 10-0 run that breathed new life into the Clippers. His energy was remarkable, as he disrupted passing lanes, altered shots, dove for loose balls, and facilitated within a second unit that was finally playing effectively enough to build a six-point lead. Credit Brett Brown and the 76ers, however, because they kept fighting, wrestling the lead back to one point before Chris Paul returned to seal the deal.
It’s sometimes easy to overlook the monumental ability that Paul has to lift up a team almost single-handedly. On a night where J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Austin Rivers all struggled from deep, CP was there to knock down all four of his triples and provide enough firepower to put away the 76ers for good, all while orchestrating the rest of the offense and being a pest defensively down the stretch. The Clippers took care of the ball in the second half (only five turnovers) and put their foot on the gas when they needed to, finishing the game with an energy that was just too much for the 76ers to overcome.
- Staggering! It works! — Whether it was a product of a brutal stretch of schedule that has left guys exhausted or a conscious effort to experiment with staggering Blake and CP’s minutes, Doc boarded the stagger train today and, to no surprise, it paid off. Had he waited to bring Blake back until the 8:00-mark of the fourth quarter, it may have been too late for the Clippers to climb back into this game. His substitution patterns will certainly be worth watching in coming days, as they likely will let us know if this new development is here to stay.
- Unsung hero, Raymond Felton — His stat lines don’t typically do justice to the job that Felton has done this year as a Clipper. Chris Paul credited him with turning the momentum around on the defensive end, and it should be noted that he finished with a game high +13. Besides having a knack for coming up with big buckets in key moments, Felton’s effort on both ends of the floor is as consistent as anyone else on the second unit, a trait that is made all the more valuable by the streaky tendencies of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Mo Speights.
- Where was Luc? — For the second game in a row, Luc Mbah a Moute has gotten the start, but only played 12 minutes, six to begin each half. Against teams without premier wing talent, like Memphis or Philadelphia, his utility is certainly diminished, but if Doc is only going to play Luc such limited minutes, I’d rather see someone like Austin get more opportunities to get into a rhythm and make an impact. It still isn’t entirely clear how Mbah a Moute will fit into the Clippers’ plans come playoff time and some clarity might be beneficial as the regular season comes to a close.
- Airrrrrbaaaaaalllll — It’s not often that we get to see someone other than DJ toss up an airball from the charity stripe, but we were graced with a truly horrendous attempt from Richaun Holmes. To be fair, that was about the only misstep of Holmes’ very impressive showing (24 points, 9 rebounds, 10/14 from the field). In other free throw related news, DeAndre knocked down 7 of 10 attempts and made the 76ers pay for a short-lived Hack-a-DJ stint, his best showing in months.
The Clippers will be back in action Monday night against the Jazz in a game with serious playoff seeding implications, as they currently sit just one game behind Utah after their loss to the Thunder this afternoon.