How about a little bonus recap action? Here’s Luke Laubhan summing up last night’s action all neat and tidy like. Enjoy.
Well, that’s why you have a lock-down defender like Jamal Crawford in at crunch-time – to seize the game and squelch the Nets’ hopes of a road win, all in one magnificent play.
Okay, so maybe Chris Paul (29 points, 11 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers) had a little something to do with this rugged Clipper win, one that keeps Los Angeles even with Denver and Memphis in contention for the third-seed, but, I mean, Jamal got the steal-transition dunk that stretched LA’s lead to 94-90 with 48 seconds left, effectively putting Brooklyn behind the eight ball. How often does that happen?! For Jamal? Let’s start Jamal’s All-Defense campaign right here, right now.
It was a bit of a weird game all around, which is bound to happen when you host the new-look Brooklyn Nets and their odd roster (the Billion-dollar No-Personality Backcourt of Williams and Johnson and the All-Goofball Frontcourt of Lopez, Evans, Humphries, and Blatche). Pre-game buildup focused on the head-to-head matchup between draft classmates Paul and Williams (18 points, 9 assists). That drama didn’t totally materialize until the fourth quarter – even then, it rarely felt mano-a-mano – Paul spent the first half probing, getting others involved, while Williams did his damage after Paul briefly exited the game following a blow to his knee. Willie Green started for the Clippers in place of an injured Chauncey Billups, and he promptly put up 10 points in the first quarter; given that Paul looked engaged the whole night and what we know of his aggressiveness when playing without Billups, it begs the question, why not more Willie?
Meanwhile, Blake Griffin (11 points, 7 rebounds, 2/5 FT) struggled against quick double teams, Lopez’s length, and ex-teammate and professional agitator Evans’s spastic guile. When Blake couldn’t get clean post looks early, he started settling for contested jumpers. When those didn’t fall, he tried driving, but lacked authority. Essentially, he was active, but mostly ineffective. The entire Clipper offense felt cobbled together. It was a close game throughout, with Brooklyn extending an eight-point lead only once. LA gave defending the 3-point line the old college try, and “held” the Nets to 9/25 and 36 percent from 3, but several Brooklyn players missed open 3-pointers that could’ve swung the game. So it goes.
The Nets led by two at halftime, five after the third quarter – following Gerald Wallace’s 12-point-third-quarter reanimation that recalled Crash’s days as a maniacal stat-stuffer – but the fourth quarter saw Paul do what he does: steady the ship, generate offense (mostly off middle screens and pull-up jumpers), and generally affect the game by his personality. Things escalated in the final six minutes, with a few physical fouls, close calls, and some shot clock malfeasance that cost LA a possession. It started to feel like the playoffs, felt a little tense, but Paul was there all along, bookending Crawford’s fourth steal of the season (probably) with a satisfying pull-up over Evans and a bobbling, double-clutch And-1 that nearly caused Ralph Lawler to have an on-air aneurism. Game over. On to the next one.
It was a vital win, as Los Angeles attempts to build momentum for the playoffs and now embarks on a four-game, multiple back-to-back road-trip. Ideally, both the Clippers offense and defense will coalesce over the final 12 games, but it’s easy to envision tonight’s win as a template for how LA will have to win in the postseason: gritty, scrappy contributions across the board, lapses by an imperfect opponent, and a lot of Chris Paul down the stretch.