There are a bunch of different things to talk about from tonight’s game, a hundred different moments worth reliving, and plenty of stats worth poring over. But the one thing I keep coming back to is an immeasurable, a subjective thing, something you can’t really pin down.It’s frustrating — I want to talk about the brilliance of Chris Paul, the dominating defense down the stretch, or even Caron Butler’s second half offensive explosion. But I can’t, because all I can think about is toughness.
Mental, physical, emotional — each and every kind of toughness. It was the unifying bond for the Clippers against the Heat, the one thing each player contributed in their own unique way. Maybe I’m conditioned from years of watching a revolving door of players get their empty-stats in the coldest of ways, but the Clippers, to a man, looked as tough as I can ever remember them.
Chris Paul displayed the very macho type of toughness. The confidence, the bravado, the belief that he was better than whoever it was lined up across from him. Paul’s toughness is giving up 8-inches, 60-pounds, a speed and legnth advantage, and simply not giving damn about it. It’s the move at the end of regulation against LeBron, the bringing the fight to Wade with full-court pressure, the drawing out of defenders on mismatches and dispatching them effortlessly. In Paul’s mind, he’s tougher than you because no one is tougher than him.
Chauncey Billups draws his toughness from experience. You know how you can’t beat your dad in arm-wrestling, even though he’s pushing 50? (No? Just me?) That’s Chauncey. It’s the confidence that he’s been there more times than you, that he has more reps, that he’s forgotten more tricks than you’ll ever know. You could tell something didn’t sit right when Wade tried to beat up on Billups in the post. When you get older, you’re forced to sacrifice things. For Billups, he was just making sure that he held on tight to the one of the few things he haa left.
Caron Butler gets his from stubbornness. Rain or shine, Butler will shoot. Against the best player on the planet or a defensive sieve, Butler will shoot. Whether he scored 20 points in the first half or 2 like he did against Miami, Butler will shoot. Even as everything else changes around him, Butler remains the constant. There’s a toughness in knowing exactly who you are, and never doubting it for a second.
Blake Griffin becomes more and more unrecognizable as he drifts further and further away from the basket. It’s cringe-worthy to watch him complain to referees and even more infuriating when he lets opposing players have free shots at the rim. Balancing it all — the skill and the finesse with the rugged build — is understandably a tricky process. But you know what? This was Blake’s most promising game from a growth standpoint, simply because he didn’t back down. He went after loose balls, he carved out space in the paint, he contested shots. He got dirty (and bloody) again. Blake’s game against Miami had something that was lacking in previous contests — heart.
“To those we wish to fail, thrust upon them great expectations.”
DeAndre Jordan is constantly saddled with the burden of potential. He’s already weathered a lot as a young man — unreasonable expectations, a “bust” label, yo-yo type minutes, and now the dollar amount attached to his worth. But there’s a certain relentlessness Jordan has developed to counter it all. When Miami attacked him, DeAndre stood tall until the very end when his team needed him the most.
The Clippers nearly died a thousand deaths last night at the end of regulation. There was the offensive rebound off the missed free throw and the save out of bounds, the booted turnover that wasn’t, and a bunch of other plays that very well would have killed a lesser team. But against the league’s best team on the big stage, the Clippers proved they’re tough enough to withstand just about anything.