Lou Williams darted around Bojan Bogdanovic following a little hesitation dribble, and, as has been witnessed countless times in the past two seasons, drifted subtly to his left to drill a 20 footer that put the Clippers ahead by five in the waning moments of Tuesday’s win over Indiana.
The ball, which came off Williams’ fingertips with an effortlessness reserved for the most professional of scorers, tore through the net without bothering the rim. This some 48 hours after a game-winner at the buzzer from well beyond the 3-point line had a similar effect on the Staples Center twine.
The shots from Williams were not the culmination of the Sixth Man of the Year Award, as many opined. That award was locked up by Williams two months ago. The shots represented something far larger: the Clippers, for all of the nonsensical “warmup for contenders” takes out there, have completely immersed themselves in the swagger of a winner.
They are among the second tier of contenders in the West, meaning they’re right there with anyone not named the Warriors. They enter the weekend in a four-way tie for fifth in the West. A win and some help and they’re in the 4-5 matchup.
It’s easy to compare things to the Lob City era. That six-year stretch was obviously the most sustained success in franchise history. But there were times, even after multiple postseason appearances, that it kind of felt as though they were going to catch a case of the yips. As much as it seemed like the first 46 minutes of Game 5 in Oklahoma City or the opening tip in Game 5 against Houston a year later were a coronation or catalysts for that necessary fearlessness, we were proven wrong each time.
It’s probably no coincidence that the first time the Clippers exuded a confidence like this, it was Sam Cassell juggling his symbolic giant cahones as he paraded back to the bench against the Suns 13 years ago. Cassell sits two seats down from Doc Rivers on the Clippers bench now, and while Williams plays a different game than the now 49-year-old former point guard, he drips with the same kind of swagger.
The Lob City teams played with the confidence of a champion at times as well. From 2012 (the Tribe Called Bench season) through 2015 (the Josh Smith-Corey Brewer debacle in Game 6), they were arguably one of the top 3 most confident teams in the league on a nightly basis. They came back to win games that seemed lost, they set the tone early in games by orchestrating a symphonic-like offense, and they had signature regular-season wins. They were awesome.
But this team might have beaten those Lob City teams. They certainly would have outworked them. They, too, have come back from the depths to win (three 20-point comebacks, all on road games no less). They, too, thanks to two pieces acquired in the Chris Paul trade, have an offensive symphony of their own. They, too, have some signature victories over the past five months (ruining Golden State for a few weeks, crushing Boston when they were supposedly all friends again, and turning away a Thunder team that had yet to begin its full tailspin).
And, of course, they, too, are pretty damn awesome.