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Clippers 92, Spurs 87: Making a list, checking it twice

Nov 20, 2012, 1:52 AM EDT

Matt Barnes, Manu Ginobili

Doubting the legitimacy of the Los Angeles Clippers is not a new or particularly uncommon practice. Despite laying waste to the Grizzlies, Spurs, Lakers and Heat in convincing fashion already, there was a sense that this would be the first true test for the Clippers. They’d be out on the road, against the team that swept them in last year’s playoffs, in a revenge game, in a matchup the Spurs have historically owned since Tim Duncan was in diapers. This would be the game they would crash back down to earth. Right?

Not exactly. The Clippers are a team on a warpath right now, steadily checking off all the questions being asked about them one by one. What would happen when they finally had a bad shooting night from Jamal Crawford and as a team? What would happen if they had an injury to a starter? What would happen to that defense when it ran up against a well-coached team?

Check, check, check. It was never pretty, but the Clippers grinded out a win against the San Antonio Spurs, 92-87, behind their whack-a-mole depth and a vastly improved defense that keeps churning out impressive performances.

It was Matt Barnes who popped up first off the bench for the Clippers, playing 35 minutes with Caron Butler suffering a shoulder sprain. Barnes didn’t do anything special, but he made smart cuts and cleaned up the trash around the rim, sparking a 23-5 run in the second quarter that changed the game completely. Barnes led all scorers with 12 points at halftime — which is both an indictment on a first half where everyone looked like Bambi on ice, and a testament to the Clippers depth, which has carried them all season.

After being called “one of the most underrated players in the league” by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before the game, fellow bench stud Eric Bledsoe (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals in 23 minutes) showed exactly why that’s true, terrorizing passing lanes and making eye popping plays with his athleticism offensively and basically doing all the things he always does. Even with Jamal Crawford struggling (4-for-14, 4 turnovers) and the Clippers going a Grizzlian 1-for-12 from behind the arc, it was all disguised by the defense, which shut down every player not named Duncan (20 points, 14 rebounds) or Matt Bonner (10 4th quarter points) almost completely.

Last year’s bench for the Clippers played in survival mode, just hoping to hold leads until Chris Paul could come save the day, but now Paul’s heroics seem to be used only for emergencies. Once Bonner got hot from deep, the Clippers did have to break the glass and rely on Paul for a clutch little jumper in the lane to push the lead to two possessions late, but it was the defense that ultimately smoldered a Spurs team that looked a little lost offensively without Stephen Jackson (finger injury) or Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs shot just 35 percent from the field, thanks in large part to a swarming defense that mucked up the game and cut off the steady diet of ball rotations the Spurs offense usually lives on.

A Clippers win over the Spurs last year might have felt flukey, but this, again, felt sustainable. It was ugly, but the Clippers won with plenty of avenues for improvement (turnovers, perimeter shooting), which might be the scariest thing of all. The Clippers sport a top five offense and defense through the first 10 games, and they might not even be playing their best ball (no Grant Hill or Chauncey Billups), or utilizing their best players (lots of minutes poured into Lamar Odom and Willie Green). Add in that DeAndre Jordan is beginning to figure it out on the block (he went right at Duncan multiple times tonight) and Blake Griffin is improving as a pick-and-roll defender, and this is a team that could realistically keep rising, even with a stretch of road games ahead of them. They just seem to have an answer for every question, even as the questions change.

In reality, the Clippers’ body of work through 10 games is unparalleled throughout the league. The Knicks have been great, and so have the Grizzlies, but the Clippers have beaten better opponents in a more convincing fashion. They really may be the best team in the West and the league as of right now. Of course, that moniker only means something in June, but if the best team in the league right now is only supposed to keep getting better and better going forward? That list, the one with the Spurs checked off twice and the NBA Finals at the way down at the bottom, might need to be taken a little more seriously.

  1. clevelandschronic2 - Nov 20, 2012 at 2:15 AM

    I been saying the lakers arent the best team in LA jus like the knicks arent the best in Ny(wait til amare gets back and melo begins to hog the ball). But this is only further proof that the Clippers are gonna continue to be a force in this league and they will only get better when Chauncey Bbbbbilllups (Mr Big Shot) and grant hill with his defense and occasional offense come back.

    • saint1997 - Nov 20, 2012 at 4:12 AM

      I agree on LA but not on New York. Come on son, stop hating on a team with the tied best record in the NBA just because you have a grudge. Have you seen the Nets play?

  2. jerdogthompson - Nov 20, 2012 at 2:33 AM

    Suck….check mike. Suck…

    No longer. This ain’t your dads Buick.

    Fo sure.

  3. mat9844 - Nov 20, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    I read recently where a fan referred to the Clippers as their ‘Dream Team’. I like that moniker ; after all, it’s the team we fans always dreamed of having. I know it’s early in the season, but we really love that great start we’re off to!

  4. dls612 - Nov 20, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    What would be said if they lose to a below average team or lose about 4 in a row? Would ya go back and say well they beat Miami, Lakers, grizzlies and spurs twice? ok, sure they beat some good teams and sure they are a talented squad but to say crap like ( laying waste! ) Miami will make sure that it will be a different outcome when they visit the AAA! Count on it!

  5. rjlink1 - Nov 20, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    The Clippers are definitely for real. Ridiculously deep – I don’t even know where Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups fit in. The most scary thing for the rest of the league has to be the prospect that Lamar Odom will return to form. I doubt it will happen, but still. They’re utilizing Matt Barnes correctly after he looked so bad with the Lakers, they’re getting better free throwing and awareness from Blake, Andre Jordan is showing signs of being an actual player, Jordan Crawford is a scoring force (can he keep it up?), Bledsoe is nearly at Derrick Rose’s level as a physical force, Chris Paul is a killer–what’s not to like? Backup center, that’s what. No team is winning a championship with Ryan Hollins playing meaningful minutes.

  6. jerdogthompson - Nov 20, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Ryan Hollins has played quality minutes.

    To insinuate that their championship hopes rest upon his shoulders is asinine.

    Bottom line is they will present a problem for whatever team in the league on any given night. The question is, who can beat these guys in a 7 game series? The answer is no one currently.

  7. jimsjam33 - Nov 20, 2012 at 9:36 PM

    If either CP3 or Blake go down with a season ending injury it’s over for the Clippers ; however . as of this date the Clippers look like all world !

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