Nov 20, 2012, 1:52 AM EDT
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.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo must be a small minded racist (is there another kind)… Jodie Meeks, Los Angles Lakers. Meeks epitomized the Lakers on this day — not only was he hot he was aggressive, and that’s what led to his career…
Mar 10, 2014, 12:27 AM EDT
There’s no real reason the Lakers as currently constructed should beat a Thunder team that, coming into Sunday’s contest, was tied with the Pacers for the league’s best record. But this was just one of 82 for OKC on the way to a trip that will likely last deep into the postseason, and L.A., as…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:48 PM EDT
That is what James Harden brings to the table — elite level scoring. He can flat out knock it down. That three gave Harden 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets came from 13 back to force overtime on the shot above, then in OT Harden and Jeremy Lin (9 points in the…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – Do the Detroit Pistons hold each other accountable? “No,” Brandon Jennings said directly. The Pistons’ faint playoff hopes are disintegrating. With a 118-111 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Detroit has lost three straight, seven of eight and 10 of 12. The Atlanta Hawks lead the Pistons by three games with 19…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Nerlens Noel has yet to play an NBA game this season, after being selected sixth overall in last summer’s draft by the Pelicans and then being traded to the Sixers in exchange for Jrue Holiday. Philadelphia is the team most associated with tanking this season (i.e., willingly losing games due to lack of personnel), and…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – Nine years ago, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith were roommates at Oak Hill Academy. They watched film together. They walked to the gym together for extra workouts together. They played games together. Could they team up again in the NBA? “The conversation comes up,” Smith said. “We always tell each other how surreal…
Mar 9, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Jamal Crawford missed three straight games for the Clippers due to a calf injury, before trying to give it a go on Saturday against the Hawks. But Crawford didn’t last long before realizing he wasn’t yet ready to return, and now believes he came back too soon. From Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles: Clippers guard Jamal…
Mar 9, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT
One day doesn’t change that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. What Sunday showed is why on the path to that show do neither of those teams wants to see the Chicago Bulls. Sunday at home against the Miami Chicago was relentless, physical, they defended well,…
Mar 9, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Bulls had beaten the Heat six of the last seven times the teams met during the regular season in Chicago, and this video clip of action from the first half gives us a glimpse of the reason why. Chicago plays harder than any team in the league on a game-by-game…
Mar 9, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The Knicks have won three straight and the playoffs, especially in the dreadful Eastern Conference, remain within reach. But gaining entry to the postseason and getting crushed by the Heat or the Pacers in the first round wouldn’t begin to take the sting away from what’s been an underachieving season. What a playoff berth might…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
LeBron James attended the jersey retirement ceremony of Zydrunas Ilgauskas on Saturday, a move that would have been viewed as unusual by NBA standards even before considering the history that exists between the star player and the team where he began his NBA career. James played his first seven seasons in Cleveland, before infamously spurning…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
This is a far cry from Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan, but it’s as close as the Knicks are likely to get. J.R. Smith leads the break late in the second quarter, and tosses it off the backboard for a trailing Amar’e Stoudemire. In the old days, Amar’e would have hammered this one home with…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The Magic didn’t beat the Spurs in San Antonio, of course, but this was a nice play by Arron Afflalo to end the first half nonetheless. Tim Duncan has a propensity to turn the ball over in situations like this — end of clock, trying to force a pass — and this time it cost…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
This wasn’t exactly a dunk on the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was certainly in the vicinity. Martell Webster got loose on the break, and was quick enough to the rim to avoid the long rookie, but threw the dunk down with such force that he landed somewhat awkwardly on his backside.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:42 AM EDT
This is what the Clippers do, they put on a show. Midway through the first quarter Saturday night Chris Paul made the steal and it was a two-on-none fast break, so Paul went off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for the slam. Not the best off the backboard I’ve ever seen, but not bad. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Cavaliers raised the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the rafters on Saturday, following a ceremony at halftime of Cleveland’s matchup with the Knicks. Ilgauskas delivered a speech and thanked the fans as is customary at these events, and LeBron James was in attendance to honor his former teammate, who had requested his presence. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Glen Davis has only been a member of the Clippers for four games, but he’s already sensing something special about his new team. Davis was bought out by the Magic and signed with Los Angeles less than two weeks ago, but played for Doc Rivers in Boston during his first four NBA seasons. He was…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Carl Landry appeared in a career-high 81 games for the Warriors last season, and was a key reserve who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t sniffed the postseason in eight years, but signed Landry to a four-year deal worth…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Phil Jackson was first offered a head coaching position with the Knicks this week, even though Mike Woodson is still (for reasons unknown) firmly in place. Jackson declined that one, so New York upped the ante with a front office job offer, one that Jackson would reportedly be deciding on in the coming week. No…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away. On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an…
- Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks 0
- Harden’s 17 fourth quarter points spark Rockets’ comeback win (VIDEO) 2
- Bulls beat Heat, show why nobody wants to face them in playoffs 47
- Former GM: Carmelo Anthony leaving in free agency would be ‘doing Knicks a favor’ 25
- Report: Cavaliers privately believe it’s not too late to lure LeBron back to Cleveland 20