Nov 20, 2012, 1:52 AM EST
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 1, 2015, 10:36 PM EST
They played like MVP candidates.
Mar 1, 2015, 8:59 PM EST
Harden got a technical foul for this.
Mar 1, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
As in six weeks left in the season.
Mar 1, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Jordan shot 12 free throws against the Bulls.
Mar 1, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
The deadline for McGee to be waived in order to be eligible to join another team for the playoffs is midnight Sunday.
Mar 1, 2015, 3:31 PM EST
Another hit to Chicago’s roster.
Mar 1, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Silver talked about the league one day sharing injury data at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Mar 1, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
Mar 1, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
A look at upcoming retro releases of the Jordan VIII, Jordan 1, Jordan XIV Low, and the Jordan VII.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
Odd timing, only because fans in Phoenix have historically shown up for games against San Antonio and Los Angeles.
Mar 1, 2015, 8:33 AM EST
Beasley throws one down in his second game back with the Heat.
Mar 1, 2015, 12:22 AM EST
He will be missed.
Feb 28, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
Warriors general manager supports idea
Feb 28, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Howard has missed the last 14 games.
Feb 28, 2015, 8:04 PM EST
He will sit out Sunday vs. Boston.
Feb 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
Tom Thibodeau says Rose’s rehab plan is already mapped out.
Feb 28, 2015, 4:47 PM EST
Westbrook suffered the injury last night against the Blazers.
Feb 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Rockets general manager says he recommended trading ‘everything’ for Harden in 2012
Feb 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
What else would he say?
Feb 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
He was beloved by former teammates.
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