The Clippers broke an incredible streak, finally finding a way to beat the Spurs after 18 consecutive losses. If their fans have come to expect two things, one would be losses to the Spurs (every game since March 7, 2006), and the other would be the voice that has narrated each and every one. In a coincidence fitting for this unusual night, Ralph Lawler missed the game due to insane freeway traffic, leaving us the responsibility of knowing when to fasten our own seatbelts for this thrilling upset (there was no need for Lawler’s Law on this night).
It was the Clips’ second win in the last 10 days against the team with the league’s best record at the time, having beaten the Hornets a little over a week ago. They played with energy on both ends of the floor, led by their very own superstar, Blake Griffin, and continued to give glimpses of just how good they can be. It was the sort of win that, in a vacuum, could be dismissed as a fluke, the league’s worst team catching its best on an “off” night. But while they still have a long way to go to approach the organizational consistency of their counterparts, we saw tonight that the Clippers’ formula for success is painfully simple, and they may not be as far behind as their records would suggest.
The primary ingredient in said formula, of course, is Griffin. On this night, he goes for 31 points and 13 boards, with somewhere between three and seven moments that make us wonder if he is, actually, a human being. These include: a monster jam on Tim Duncan and DaJuan Blair (Q1, 8:37), a circus 15-footer in which he slipped and lost his footing but still managed to bank in a high archer as he was falling onto his backside (Q1, 6:38), an over-the-head reverse alley-oop layup (Q3, 7:09), and a catch and double-pump reverse slam off of a laser pass from Baron Davis that many players may not have seen (Q3, 2:30). He does this against arguably the greatest power forward of all time, Duncan, along with other players like Blair and Antonio McDyess who are similarly ill-equipped to handle him. The Clips continue to find that they can run the offense through Blake at the high post, low post or anywhere in between, and they do so frequently tonight with great success.
But for all the continued amazement that Griffin provides, the key to this win, and perhaps the Clippers’ hopes of winning a respectable amount of games this season, is Baron Davis. He checks in about halfway through the first quarter, his first action in 10 games, and proceeds take over the game in the best way possible. After a missed step back baseline jumper to start things off, he begins to settle in. (Q1, 3:30) he leads a fast break and deftly drops a pass to trailing Griffin for a dunk as if he has eyes in the back of his head. He continues to probe, finding a cutting Ryan Gomes for a layup (Q1, 2:38), and follows that up with a 40-foot lob to Griffin (Q1, 1:12). After a dazzling free throw line jumper ends the quarter, Davis has four assists in six minutes and looks completely committed to facilitating for this team.
When he came back into the game at the 8:30 mark of the second, he continues to control the pace, opening up opportunities on the perimeter for teammates, most notably Rasual Butler. Butler is a completely different player when coupled with a gifted playmaker like Baron, and he shows it by knocking down three threes in the second quarter as part of a game-changing, 18-2 run to end the second half. Baron’s effort should not be understated, both for its impact on this game, as well as its potential to help the team going forward. Most hopes for this year hinged on him playing exactly this role, and if he can do that with some consistency (easier said than done, judging by his history), he absolutely transforms the team. He has the ability to create for players like Butler, who would otherwise be of very little help to the team, and allows the team to use the 19-year old Bledsoe as a very dangerous complement, rather than their primary ball handler. The point guard platoon combined for 17 assists tonight, and while they have different styles – Bledsoe the runaway train and Baron the caboose chugging along – they are both incredibly gifted at getting in the lane and looking to create for others. While neither may be the ideal leader off the court (Bledsoe is 19 and Baron is Baron), combined, they may be a deadly tempo-controlling duo on it.
It was an inspired performance and a team effort, to be sure. DeAndre Jordan chipped in 13 rebounds and three blocks, along with continued activity on the boards on a night when the Clippers dominated the Spurs down low, outscoring them, 56-34 in the paint. Bledsoe and Aminu sat mostly down the stretch in favor of Baron and Ryan Gomes as Vinny Del Negro went with veterans to preserve the win. It should also be noted that Del Negro’s use of timeouts appeared to be particularly adept, frequently being quick to huddle the troops at the first sign of defensive breakdowns, often getting positive results on the other ends of the breaks. Against a team as skilled as the Spurs, the Clippers played tough on defense, despite the Spurs suffering from unusually poor shooting on the night (35.6% from the floor). Matt Bonner, the career 41% 3-point shooter, in particular, sticks out thanks to his 0-6 line from three, many of which were good, wide open looks. The Clippers, of course, are in no position to give back victories, and frankly, they played well enough to win, despite committing 20 turnovers. Eric Gordon did a great job on Manu Ginobili and, as I said before, Griffin and Jordan outplayed the Spurs’ bigs on both ends. It was an impressive win, if for no other reason than the quality of the opponent. Perhaps more impressive, though, is the fact that it’s getting more and more difficult to be surprised by games like tonight.