On a pair of Blake Griffin free throws, a scoring outburst from Jamal Crawford and an indeterminate amount of luck, the L.A. Clippers survived a fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves, pulling out a 109-107 victory. Here are some thoughts on last night’s victory, or what some are calling a ‘moral loss.’ For more, read last night’s Last Call.
For starters, Griffin has been all kinds of aggressive lately. His lowest scoring affair in this short season was an 18-point outing against the Rockets and he’s scored 22+ points in his last four games. In 80 games last season, Blake attempted more than 20 shots just three times. Monday’s game, the eighth of the year by the way, marks the second time this season he’s taken over 20 shots. In the first quarter, the Wolves were hesitant to give Griffin the defensive attention he deserves and the Clippers took full advantage.
Griffin scored half his points in the first twelve minutes of the game, nailing a few mid-range jumpers and bullying Kevin Love in the post. Blake’s apprehension in the high-post, as was his wont last season, looks to have disappeared. He’s been nimble, making aggressive, quick moves and utilizing pump fakes to get to the rim with more regularity than we’ve ever seen before. In general, both Blake and DeAndre Jordan have been scoring on the move — off screens, cuts and so forth — at a high magnitude this season (love you, Alvin Gentry).
Perhaps most importantly, Griffin displayed some long-desired defensive chops. He did as magnificent a job on Love as you could expect from any hemoglobin-producing mammal and covered Rubio’s pick-and-roll theatrics more effectively than any of his front court partners.
The Clippers’ starting lineup is churning out a magnificent product right now. They score 115.3 points per 100 possessions with a net rating of 16.1, per NBA.com. The only five-man unit that’s scored more efficiently than them (minimum 50 minutes) is the Golden State Warriors’ long-range starting lineup — not the worst company to be in. But that’s the first quarter.
By now, you know what happens next: Byron Mullens completes the Clippers’ two-headed anti-monster with Ryan Hollins and that atrocity itself deserves a paragraph on its own.
The Clippers’ bench has been a problem. To open the second quarter, they couldn’t even set the offense before leaving just nine seconds on the shot clock. Mullens and Hollins have baaaaaad back line chemistry, which isn’t to underplay the fact that they’re almost just as bad at defense all by themselves. Oftentimes this season, today included, they’ve rotated onto the same player or flat-out left the guy with the ball unguarded because Mullens thought Hollins had him and Hollins thought Mullens had him and oh-God-it’s-just-such-a-mess-didn’t-your-high-school-coaches-tell-you-to-talk-on-the-defensive-end? This unit can’t defend worth a lick but as of yet, neither can the starters.
The main difference is the bench doesn’t have the added benefit of being absolutely unstoppable on offense and this is where tonight’s game showed a few glimmers of hope. Hollins and Darren Collison hinted at semi-dependable pick-and-roll chemistry with two dunks in the second quarter and Jamal Crawford’s laser pass to a cutting Matt Barnes represented a faint, but encouraging, rendition of the now-deceased Tribe Called Bench.
Speaking of, J-Craw was lights out fantastic. He played one of his best games in a Clipper uniform, scoring 18 points and 6 assists to fuel a late run that saw the Clippers win despite Deck-a-DJ, as well as a complete disregard for defense and glass protection. In essence, he was the X-factor the Clippers didn’t deserve.
The other X-factor being that Pekovic and Love came up with two consecutive rebounds and put-back attempts that would have tied things up at the end of regulation and both were unsuccessful.
When tired legs and close games are involved, the outcome is often a result of chance more than it is execution. Luck be a lady (or a Crawford explosion), and the Clippers scored tonight. Yet regardless of the final score, the encompassing problems remain and it’s hard not to look at Monday’s game as a lesson the Clippers just barely missed out on.