After the loss to the Nuggets on Thursday, J.J. Redick mentioned he doesn’t know what to expect from this team. He’s not the only one. Between the team at the beginning of the season, the various lineup changes due to injuries, and their current struggles, many observers would surmise that the Clippers are having a bit of an identity crisis. Add to that a current 3-game losing streak, the chance to fall out of the 5 seed, and rumors Doc Rivers addressed regarding the possibility of leaving for the Orlando Magic, and it would seem a perfect storm is brewing regardless of whether or not the team had to face the Cavaliers’ big three.
Doc Rivers: "I have a past with the Orlando Magic, but I have no future with them. My future is here."
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) March 18, 2017
If there was a cloud hanging over their proverbial heads, it looked like it in the first quarter. The Clippers shot 6 for 20 in the initial frame of the contest and found themselves trailing after a J.R. Smith buzzer-beater broke the tie heading into the second quarter. Unlike many recent nights, however, the team’s defense remained the constant, holding the Cavaliers to only 31 points on the half and 78 points for the game. The 30-point win was the largest win margin the Clippers have had since November 14 against the Brooklyn Nets. It was also the lowest point total allowed to an opponent since February 13 at Utah.
Some might consider that this win was handed to the Clippers thanks to the Cavs decision to rest their players. Long-time Clippers fans, however, have also seen too many let-downs in scenarios not too different than this one. It’s worth noting the margin of victory as a sign of the Clippers trying to get back to the team they were at the start of the year. During their 14-2 start, LA had three wins of 30 points or higher. This win is their first of the sort since that stretch. And while it only exists as a single game among 82, the question now is if the team can make it a habit.
X-Factor: When the shots were not falling at the start of the contest, DeAndre Jordan was there to anchor the team. The Clippers’ big man notched his 31st double-double before the end of the first half. In total, he would finish with 13 points and 17 rebounds in just under 27 minutes of game time. More importantly were his contributions on the defensive end. After the game, Blake Griffin mentioned the ability hear the low man as one of the reasons their defense excelled.
Postgame Sound 🔊: "Our trust was high tonight." – @BlakeGriffin32
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 19, 2017
Major Moment: The Cavs last lead of the game was erased by a Jamal Crawford jump shot at 7:37 of the second quarter. From that point on, the Clippers mounted a 25-9 run thanks to transition baskets, hot shooting from J.J. Redick, and a plethora of free throw opportunities. It woke the Staples Center crowd from their early game slumber, with the audience reaching a crescendo thanks to Blake Griffin’s tip dunk over Richard Jefferson and Tristan Thompson.
Key Lineups: Inconsistencies have been an issue for much of the lineup play during the 3-game losing streak. It should come as no surprise, then, that much of the success in this game can be credited to the team playing to their expectations. Guided by a strong second quarter from Redick and a 13-point third quarter by Griffin, the Clippers’ best four shared 18 minutes together and finished with a net rating of 32.6. The four-man lineup of Crawford, Felton, Rivers, and Speights also played well, finishing with a net rating of 20.2 in their 14 minutes together.
The Definition: The chatter circling the team isn’t likely to stop after this victory. After all, this was a victory against a Cavs bench that ranks in the bottom third of the league by wins above replacement player.
Rather than to look at what the opponent is doing, though, it is more important to focus on the things the Clippers did right. The defense played well. The rebounding was dominant. The bench allowed the starters to sit in the 4th quarter. These are qualities to build upon heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
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