For the first time in franchise history, the Los Angeles Clippers can officially say that they own the best record in the NBA. Thanks to a 112-100 win over the Nuggets, and also thanks in part to a 103-97 Thunder loss to the Miami Heat earlier this afternoon, the Clippers (22-6) were able to move a half game ahead of Oklahoma City (21-6) in the race for the NBA’s best mark.
The victory was the 14th consecutive for the Clippers, extending their franchise-record and putting the rest of the league further on notice. Playing in front of a national audience on ESPN, the Clippers rose to the challenge and gave everyone else in the country a glimpse of the type of high-flying, opportunistic squad that we in Los Angeles have had the privilege to witness all season.
The outcome of this match was largely determined in the 2nd quarter of play, where the Clippers outscored the Nuggets 42-22. After a sloppy start to the quarter in which the Clippers turned the ball over 3 times, on 3 consecutive possessions no less, coach Vinny Del Negro opted to bring PG Chris Paul back into the game, a move which ultimately sealed the fate of the Denver Nuggets. In those final 8 minutes, the Clippers offense was as sharp as it has been all season, at one point scoring on 11 straight possessions, and extending the lead from 3 all the way to 19 at the break.
The 2nd quarter was a microcosm for what the Clippers have been doing all season. Propelled by strong defense which has forced the 2nd highest turnovers in the NBA, the Clippers jumped out in transition and converted all 5 Nuggets turnovers into fast break points. Chris Paul recounted the 2nd quarter by stating, “That quarter is a great example of how prolific our offense can be when everything is clicking.”
The bench was instrumental in propelling the 2nd quarter run as well as much of the Clippers’ offense this evening. Matt Barnes had another very impressive night, putting up 20 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 32 minutes. Barnes contributed 12 points and 3 rebounds in the 2nd quarter alone. Jamal Crawford contributed 9 points in the 2nd quarter en route to a game high 22 points off the bench. A much-improved Lamar Odom, since his early-season struggles, provided 30 effective minutes off the bench, amassing 6 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists, while spacing the floor very effectively for the Clippers’ offense.
The bench poured in 64 points as a unit, compared to only 48 for the starters. Such a statistic though has become commonplace during this 14-game winning streak. The Clippers have won by an average of 15 points per game during this stretch, which often has allowed the starters to rest for entire 4th quarters. As Blake Griffin put it, “With our bench as effective as it is, we can just switch in and out, beating the other teams like a tag team.”
Strong bench play will certainly be needed Thursday night against the Celtics, a very strong and battle-tested squad that is far better than its 14-13 record would imply. Rajon Rondo will certainly be a handful to defend, as his passing ability is as good as anyone’s in the league, displayed by his league-leading 11.5 assists per game. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are always a lot to handle, which does not even account for the resurgent Jeff Green, and strong backups like rookie Jared Sullinger and veteran Jason Terry coming off the bench.
Nonetheless though the Clippers have thus far met every challenge that has come their way during this 14-game win streak and will surely be ready to try to extend that streak Thursday night versus Boston. Yet as brilliant as this streak has been, it is important to remember that this is still just the regular season, and amazing win streaks do not guarantee postseason success. Chris Paul put it best as he said, “The winning streak is great, but it’s fools’ gold; we need to stay focused on the big picture and continue to improve and reach our ultimate goal [of winning a championship].”
- Ben Caplan (Cali Swag/All About Sports)