The Clippers started out the game 10-0, and there were brief flashbacks to that rout of the Suns last week. The Clippers were swarming on defense, attacking in transition, and just looked like the far better team. While the Nets were able to trim the lead and hang in during the first, the Clippers looked like they were in control. The second quarter was much the same, with the Clippers constantly inching forwards, and the Nets fighting, but ultimately not playing well enough on either end to take the game.
All that changed in the third quarter. The Nets began to generate open looks against lackadaisical Clippers’ defense, and the Clips’ offense started to drag as their transition opportunities diminished. The bench checked in towards the end of the 3rd, and the lead slipped even further, with the Nets posing a real threat of stealing the game. The Clippers continued to look hapless at the start of the 4th, and Doc Rivers was forced to re-insert his starters far earlier than he usually does. The lineup of Milos-Lou-Austin-Tobias-DJ played most of the final quarter, and were able to get shots to drop on a fairly steady basis. Defense was another issue, however. The Nets went with five three-point shooters, nailing open threes time and again on simple drive and kicks. DJ was called away from the basket, and the paint opened up for the Nets’ athletes. Things looked grim, and the Nets led by 8 with just a couple minutes to go. The Clippers then went on a 13-2 run to end the game, coming up with several crucial stops. Austin Rivers hit a massive step-back three-point shot to give them the 101-100 lead, and Lou Williams then sealed the game with a typically smooth fading jumper. The Clippers ended up escaping by the skin of their teeth, but escaped nonetheless.
- Austin Rivers is Awesome: Austin has been overlooked this season due to Lou’s awesomeness, the Blake trade, and his own struggles with injuries. But the younger Rivers is having a career season, averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and three-point shooting percentage. And he was the savior for the Clippers tonight, scoring 14 points in the 4th quarter, including the step-back three that put the Clippers up for good. His defense wasn’t always super sharp, but his confidence to take and hit big shots is incredibly valuable, and his crossover is one of the most underrated moves in the entire NBA. Austin is no longer just an NBA player, or a solid player, or a nice rotation piece. He is a starting guard in this league, and watching his improvement over the years has been incredible. Shout out to Austin Rivers.
- DJ Hits Free Throws: DeAndre Jordan was absolutely fantastic tonight, playing his second stellar game in a row. He effected shots around the basket, made a couple good moves on the offensive end, and most impressively, hit 9 of his 10 free throws. His growth as a foul shooter has somehow not been discussed much this year, especially considering how much grief he took for it over the years. Tonight, he calmly stepped up and sunk free throws, including two coming late in the 4th quarter. He didn’t get rattled in the moment, and the free throws never even had a chance of missing.
- Tobias Harris’ Defense: Tobias isn’t a great man to man defender. Quicker players are able to get by him without too much trouble, and even bigger ones can make him look foolish on occasion. Yet he always tries hard, and that matters a lot. Even better, he’s shown himself to be a truly good help defender, both in the paint and around the perimeter. He had three steals tonight, mostly by smart rotations and strips on driving players, and added three blocks as well. Harris is not afraid to move near the basket and protect the rim, and his ability to go straight up on shot contests is very impressive. He came up with huge stops all night, and that’s not something that I was expecting for Harris when he came to the Clippers nearly a month ago. Oh, and he also scored 26 points on 19 shots with 8 rebounds thrown in for good measure. He’s good at basketball.
- Sindarius Steps Up: I’ve been critical of Sindarius Thornwell at times this season, but there’s no denying he’s been sharp the past few games. His defense is absolutely terrific: while his awareness on the final play (he should have fouled, and didn’t) was questionable, his ability to block the game-tying three-point shot was remarkable. While he did still have a couple minus plays on offense, he’s not trying to do as much as he was earlier in the season, and looks better for it. He will be a part of the Clippers’ rotation down the stretch, which is not nearly as worrying a proposition as it was a couple weeks ago.
- Sean Kilpatrick’s Debut: The Clippers signed Sean Kilpatrick earlier today, and he was pressed into action quickly, making his first appearance as a Clipper in the first quarter. He played 11 minutes, and went 1-4 from the field with an assist. Not a great start for Sean, especially on defense, though expecting much from him on his very first day with the team is certainly unfair. Hopefully he plays better as he gets more acclimated with his teammates.
Good win by the Clippers, but they really need to work on their defense. They can be good on that end—they just need to keep the effort up, especially when defending against three pointers.