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.
May 25, 2013, 8:00 PM EDT
It’s not uncommon in the NBA to have a team’s radio or television broadcasting crew unabashedly slant their coverage in favor of the home team. In fact, many clubs prefer it, even if the coverage can be off-putting to the more neutral observers forced to listen to a particular broadcast. The Pacers fall into this…
May 25, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT
There was a critical play late in the Grizzlies’ Game 2 loss to the Spurs where Tony Allen was brought down by Manu Ginobili on a fast break attempt. Ginobili grabbed Allen’s off arm and dragged him out of the air to prevent an easy layup, causing Allen to fall awkwardly as he came to…
May 25, 2013, 5:00 PM EDT
Golden State’s Mike Malone has been in the group with Brian Shaw and Mike Budenholzer the past few years — top assistant coaches that get interviews but have yet to land in the big chair. That could be about to change for Malone — it’s a good thing when the owner wants you. And the…
May 25, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT
Late in the fourth quarter of the Pacers’ Game 2 win over the Heat, Dwyane Wade elevates to try to get past Lance Stephenson just after he crosses half court. It appeared as though Wade was simply trying to hustle to get into defensive position, and had no intention of making any malicious contact. But…
May 25, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT
There have been seven quarters — 84 minutes — of the Western Conference Finals where the Spurs have looked much the better team. But the last 17 minutes — the fourth quarter and overtime, Memphis erased a 16-point deficit, pushed the game into overtime and made this start to look like the close series we…
May 25, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
Kevin Durant has a reputation of being not only one of the best basketball players in the game, but also as one of the most genuine human beings to be associated with the league today. And he keeps doing things to solidify that image. After a devastating tornado ripped through parts of Oklahoma, Durant personally…
May 25, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
After the Pacers took Game 2 from the Heat by defending well enough to get LeBron James to turn the ball over on consecutive possessions with the game on the line, Gorge Hill was asked if there was any player in the world more dangerous with the ball in that situation. “Yeah, it’s only like…
May 25, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
The momentum is building in the talks between current Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri and the Raptors, and the two sides are in negotiations to move forward with an agrement to bring the reigning Executive of the Year to Toronto. After a meeting that took place in Colorado on Friday, things seem to be progressing at…
May 25, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
LeBron James won Game 1 against the Pacers in the final moments, with two drives to the basket for scores in the final 10 seconds of overtime. To say he lost Game 2 in a similar manner would be overstating things a bit, but James did commit two turnovers on consecutive possessions with under a…
May 25, 2013, 1:49 AM EDT
Coming into this series, the Miami Heat gave the proper lip service to respecting the Indiana Pacers, but did they really respect them? The Heat had gone 45-3 since Feb. 3, you had to wonder if the Pacers really had their attention They do now. The question going into this series wasn’t if the Pacers…
May 25, 2013, 12:45 AM EDT
After the way Game 1 between the Heat and the Pacers went down, Game 2 could have gone one of two ways. Either Miami could have received the wake-up call delivered by Indiana and then come out with a dominant and inspired performance, or the Pacers could continue to make life difficult for the defending…
May 25, 2013, 12:06 AM EDT
As the final seconds of the third quarter wound down, Paul George dribbled at the top and sized up LeBron James, arguably the NBA’s best wing defender. Without the benefit of LeBron overplaying him or the absence of a rim protector, George drove left past LeBron and ferociously dunked over Chris Andersen as a foul…
May 24, 2013, 11:11 PM EDT
This series is so much fun. Paul George just absolutely crushed the Birdman Chris Andersen with a dunk. Just crushed him. LeBron James comes back down and drains a three. Then a little hand slap at midcourt. Respect. These are two teams standing toe-to-two trading blows, and most teams wither when they do that with…
May 24, 2013, 9:45 PM EDT
There is no way that should have been a technical. It’s the playoffs, we want emotion, we want a little feisty play… and frankly that wasn’t that feisty. There are Tuesday night games in Minnesota in January that were more emotional than that play. But Scott Foster has the fastest trigger in the NBA for…
May 24, 2013, 6:39 PM EDT
First Jim Boeheim has Carmelo Anthony’s back, now it’s time for another coach to get a former star’s back. Kentucky coach John Calipari was on the Adam “the Bull” & Dustin Fox show on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, and when asked about Derrick Rose and his injury — and the heat he took in…
May 24, 2013, 4:56 PM EDT
In Hollywood, they call that chewing up the scenery. Memphis guard Tony Allen has been fined $5,000 by the league for his overacting — technically violating the league’s anti-flopping policy — on that play. Make no mistake, Manu Ginobili fouled Allen hard on this crucial late-game play — the Grizzlies were down four with :26…
May 24, 2013, 3:29 PM EDT
Early in the fourth quarter of the Heat’s Game 1 win over the Pacers, Ian Mahinmi grabbed LeBron James by the arm as he went up for the shot, causing James to fall a bit awkwardly as he crashed to the floor. It was ruled as a common foul at the time, but has since…
May 24, 2013, 2:42 PM EDT
The Clippers’ head coaching job is undoubtedly the most intriguing out of all of the ones that are currently open for next season. Assuming Chris Paul re-signs with the team in free agency, L.A. will return the core of a team that was talented enough to win 56 regular season games and two in the…
May 24, 2013, 2:34 PM EDT
To answer your first question, that is Todd MacCulloch getting dunked on. He played for the Nets in 2002. That was one of those years when the real NBA finals was the Lakers vs. Kings in the Western Conference Finals — whichever team got through that war was going to steamroll New Jersey. Which is…
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