Los Angeles Clippers
MVP: If playing a game without DeAndre Jordan for the first time in five seasons was a reason to worry, then Cole Aldrich was the one to put those worries to rest. The backup big man had his best game of the season with 19 points on 7-14 shooting with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Thirteen of those points came in a third-quarter where the Clippers outscored the Heat 34-17.
That was … a way to make up for lost rebounds: The Clippers were once again outrebounded by their opponent, but they made up for it by being extremely active in stealing the ball, tallying 18 steals in total for the game. Eight of those steals were by Pablo Prigioni alone.
X factor: The Heat were held to 38 points in the second half as the team found their groove on the defensive end. After tonight’s contest, the Clippers now rank as the 9th best defensive team in the league per NBA.com.
— Brandon Tomyoy
Tweet(s) Of The Game
And the rockets' red glare🎶 you're like a dream come true🎶 the bombs bursting in air🎶 just want to be with you🎶 pic.twitter.com/FvEvf3djiK
— Andrew Han (@andrewthehan) January 14, 2016
A couple fans just yelled, "DJ Khaled, they don't want us to win!" Khaled turned around and threw his arms up in the air.
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) January 14, 2016
Pablo Prigioni: 1st player to get 8 steals in fewer than 20 minutes since his head coach, Doc Rivers did it in 1991! pic.twitter.com/BHptsYuO3k
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 14, 2016
pablo continues to be one of the finest and most charismatic cat burglars in recent nba history
— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) January 14, 2016
Clippers now have five winning streaks of 10+ games in 46-year franchise history. Four have come since Chris Paul's arrival in 2011.
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 14, 2016
Check Your Messages
Welcome Back, Gang
It’s kind of ironic, really. On the night that the Clippers’ ironman center finally breaks his league-leading streak of consecutive games played (360, if you’re interested), the Clippers also played every member of their full 12-man roster for the first time since Christmas. C.J. Wilcox shared the court with the likes of Wes Johnson and Austin Rivers; wayward forwards Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson returned to the lineup and played significant minutes for the first time in seemingly forever.
Doc had major fun with lineups, at one point trotting out four guards – Paul, Redick, Rivers, and Crawford – for … the hell of it, maybe? Aside from the some possible skulduggery with the rims early on, just about every man on the roster played like they deserved the minutes that were dished out with these wacky rotations. Small sample size, planetary alignment, Powerball… blame whatever you want, as this might not ever happen again
this season or any other. But imagine if the time plays with this combination of enthusiasm and execution once the starting frontcourt returns. I’m getting misty just thinking about it.
Swipe Game Incredible
Getting pressure on the ball and forcing turnovers can be a great equalizer. Folks like to say steals are overrated. As a long-armed slender fella with quick hands, that’s always been blasphemous to me. You don’t want to sell out as an individual for steals, but as a team, the ability to take the ball away on a consistent basis can make up for struggles in the rebounding depart OR (never and, or) when the other team is having a strong shooting night.
DeAndre Jordan missed his first game in years, while the Heat came to Los Angeles with C Hassan Whiteside back in the lineup (albeit, in a reserve role). The Clippers were outrebounded yet again. But the Clippers took advantage of the absence of Miami PG Goran Dragic and forced 23 turnovers, including 18 steals, their most in a game in more than 3 years.
Pablo Prigioni had a ridiculous 8 steals. What?! Prigioni turns 39 in May, and he played just under 15 minutes. Somehow, he had a rip for every 2 minutes he was on the floor. Prigioni became the oldest player since at least 1985 to get at least 8 steals in a game, as HOF PG John Stockton was 36 years old when he got 8 steals in a March 1999 game – and Stockton played 44 minutes to get those steals in Portland that day!
Prigioni is also only the 2nd player since at least 1985 to get at least 8 steals in a game in fewer than 20 minutes. He’s now in company with his head coach, Doc Rivers, who was playing for the Clippers in November 1991 when he got 9 steals in 18 minutes vs. the Suns.
Speaking of Rivers, that’s 10 straight wins for his squad, with nine of them coming without Blake Griffin, and this one coming without Jordan. He became the only coach in team history with multiple win streaks of at least 10 games – in fact, he has as many 10-game W streaks in 3 years as the entire franchise had in the previous 43 seasons before Rivers arrived. The only other win streaks of at least 10 games in franchise history belong to Vinny Del Negro (franchise-record 17 in 2012-2013) and HOFer Jack Ramsay with the Buffalo Braves from 1974-1975 (11-game win streak).
Depth Rises to the Top
Erik Spoelstra looked visibly irritated with his team at various moments in the second half. Not too long after his post-game comments where he thoroughly lambasted his exhausted Miami Heat bunch, something occurred to me about the Clippers — not the Heat. These aren’t the Clippers that find ways to beat themselves anymore. The way I see it, at this very point in the season, two teams took the Staples Center floor that happened to be at the intersection of going in two different directions.
Now that the communal wheels on the Clippers are officially kicked into high gear, it’s not a coincidence this 10-game winning streak is on the back’s of the depth that was just last season noted as a roster blemish. With DeAndre Jordan joining Blake Griffin on the sideline, it was Cole Aldrich that fueled a third-quarter surge that effectively allowed the Clippers to grab this game by the horns. Aldrich and Pablo Prigioni — who turned himself into a steal contraption for this game — led a 12-player rotation where no one guy logged more than 30 minutes. It’s this kind of depth and this sort of collective production that’s afforded the Clippers success without Griffin. It’s also allowed Chris Paul to operate within his comfort level, not anymore or less.
A 13th 15-point, 10-assist game on the season leaves Paul just behind Russell Westbrook and John Wall in that department. Paul leads, dishes, scores when necessary and the surrounding depth continues to rise to the top. Sounds like a winning formula right now.
Out of Pocket
Most great players have signature moves, whether we’re talking about Steph Curry pulling up from 95 feet or LeBron barreling to the rim, Dr. J gliding through traffic or Wes Unseld heaving overhead outlets, and Chris Paul is no exception. It would be tempting to call his little elbow jumper with a slight fade his signature, but that doesn’t quite express his basketball personality in the right way – instead, the answer might be the pocket pass, slipped between two haplessly collapsing defenders into the waiting hands of a diving big. Tonight his incredible faculty with those sneaky passes was on full display, knifing the basketball between Udrih and Bosh, Johnson and Whiteside, and right into the eager arms of the Toothless Wonder himself, Cole Aldrich.
Paul made Aldrich look like DeAndre Jordan the way he makes Jordan look like Tyson Chandler, the way he made David West look like Blake Griffin and Griffin look like Karl Malone. Time and time again Paul was able to slide passes to Aldrich off of screens, creating open looks and excellent offensive rebounding chances when Aldrich occasionally blew layups. On a night when the Clippers could easily have lost, Paul turned lemons into limoncello and stocky ground-bound backups into high-flying stars, coaxing another harmonious performance from the Clippers’ hobo orchestra of unorthodox instruments en route to an important win.
Everyone is Willie Green
Less than a dozen games ago, the idea of Cole Aldrich or Pablo Prigioni as mainstays in the Clipper rotation seemed implausible. Ten straight wins later, and it seems even less plausible that the two of them would find themselves out of the rotation again.
To their credit, the lack of early season playing time has not been a deterrent, and their incorporation of the spread pick-and-roll into the secondary unit’s attack have put the bench back into the positive side of basketball’s fickle graces. Some might credit a level of fortitude in dealing with an uncertain role, but for this team, many might instead consider it a level of professionalism. It’s a lot to ask of any player, especially when pride, ego, and even the simple want of a defined role can come into play. But seeing the recently demoted Josh Smith as part of a 20-7 bench run that essentially put the game to rest, one wonders if the bench now understands and accepts the fluidity that the coach wants.
Asked by Clippers radio announcer Brian Sieman before the game as to whether lessons or understandings of roles change when the team is winning or losing, Doc Rivers responded by saying they don’t, but that they are easier to accept when the team is winning.
It can be disputed whether the results drive the increased productivity or if team productivity drives the result, but at least after the last ten games, this Clippers team is beginning to look like the team so many expected them to be.