After the Clippers’ best game of the season, I’ve been curious to see the reactions all around. I mean, do the Clips revel in this? Do they rest on their laurels? Do they continue to grow? So I looked around to see what was the reaction to the Clippers, which in large part was positive. And then I came up on Lisa Dillman’s Clippers Report in the LA Times yesterday evening. In it, she interviewed LeBron for his reaction.
“You have to show up every night,” James said. “You can’t just show up against the Heat. Or show up for the Lakers or the Celtics. It’s easy to get up for those games. You have sellouts: 19,000 fans.
“It’s easy to get up for those games. When you are playing some of the teams, [that] record-wise are not that good, you still play with that intensity. For a young team, it’s very difficult at times.”
While a possible reaction to that quote is “LeBron just has sour grapes,” I think there is something more more. I mean, if there has been anything to count on this season, it has been the effort of the team. Griffin, Gordon, Bledsoe, etc. have all been playing so hard, every single night. And so I almost thought that LeBron mistook that effort for the fans’ interest in the game. After all, the Clip fans haven’t been that loud since the New Orleans and New York games. But then I thought about LeBron’s evolution as a player, thinking back to his time with the 2008 Gold Medal Winning USA Basketball Team. He was already a great player at the point, statistically the best even if the majority wasn’t ready to acknowledge that it was better than Kobe. And then he took it to another level. Learned from the effort that the famously hardworking Bryant and won two consecutive MVPs. The cynic will note that he still hasn’t won a ring, but bringing a Cavs team deep into the playoffs, especially in sight of the current Cavs team, is a testament to his ability to elevate not just his own play, but his team’s play as well.
I started to think about it, imagine the different permutations of ‘intensity’ and how it could have applied to the Heat game because without question, the Clippers played much better. And what struck me was the passing and caring for the ball, that’s what stood out as the season outlier to me. Execution. Then it hit me, intensity isn’t just effort, but the focus necessary to play smart and efficient. LeBron was right, the Clippers do need to bring that mental intensity every night, because they already bring it physically. They need to focus on caring for the ball and getting the passes out to the right man. The Clippers only had 3 turnovers in that amazing first half against the Heat and 10 overall, just more than half the turnovers they’ve been averaging over the course of the season.
The Clippers have been playing great lately, 8-3 in their last 11, but tonight will be a great test of that ‘intensity’ that LeBron spoke of. The Warriors are not the Heat, the Clippers are not playing at home, and because they’ve come off a giant win, there is the potential to stumble. What makes me hopeful is that when the Clippers were starting this hot streak, they were playing mostly bottom feeders (with exception of the Bulls). Wins are still wins, but when they played the Jazz and the Hawks, the game that they had played before didn’t work. The losses almost looked like they came from the beginning of the seaons, that the Clippers reverted back to their old ways. But instead of wallowing, they learned that they needed to bring up the focus to a higher level and they squarely beat the Nuggets, the Warriors and even the Heat.
That’s what I love about this team, beyond just the highlights they look like they learn from every mistake. It’s not a linear line of progress, there are ups and downs, but their progress is visible. Wins over the Thunder, Hornets, Spurs, Bulls, Nuggets, and Heat don’t look like anomalies, but a progression in Clipper improvement.
Keys to the Game:
- Defend the three (and Dorell Wright). This is something that I’m sure the coaches have been harping on the players: defend the three. The Clippers give up 39.2 percent from three (second worst) and the Warriors shoot 40.3 percent (best in the NBA) and have made the 4th most threes in the NBA. While the Clippers handily beat the Warriors in the last game and defended the three well for the most part (held GSW to 31.8 percent) they still allowed their deficiencies defending wings on the three as Wright went off for 27 points on 5 of 6 from three. Part of it is from the help D when Monta or Curry drive, but Wright is a much improved player this season. The Clippers don’t respect him as much as say LeBron James, they don’t give Wright the proper attention to hold him from scoring. That needs to change tonight.
- Tempo. The Clippers did a great job controlling the tempo against the Warriors in the last game, holding the Warriors to 91 points, almost 11 points below their season average (101.9). However, now the Clippers will be playing the Warriors on the road and with Warriors fans. It’s going to be a completely different environment, one where they are going to have to take pleasure in shutting a crowd up. It’s hard to do, but if the Clippers bring the same kind of energy and discipline that they did against the Heat, then they’ll probably win.
- Control the Boards. The Clippers lost the battle of the boards against the Heat and won, rebounding normally their calling card. It was in large part due to the decrease in offensive rebounding to prevent the Heat fastbreak, but the Warriors aren’t quite as lethal running as the Heat. It’s not the same preparation for the Warriors, the prevention of the fast break lays in dominating the battle of the boards, not retreating quickly. David Lee and Andris Biedrins, like I said before the last W’s game, almost pull down as many rebounds (18.7) as Blake and DeAndre (19.6) so the Clippers will have stiff competition.
- Chris Kaman out, ankle
- Craig Smith out, herniated disc
- Brian Cook doubtful, ankle
- Monta Ellis probable, flue like symptoms
- Reggie Williams probable, right achilles