Through the first four games of the season, the Los Angeles Clippers no doubt played to the level of their competition.
A gritty, grudge match re-match win over the Memphis Grizzlies and a big victory over their Staples Center co-tenants set the Clippers off to a red hot start.
Then came two home games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs a year ago.
The Golden State Warriors got the better of the Clippers in a free throw frenzy on November 3rd and the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, backed by incredible performances from their two 20-year-old backcourt mates, bested the Clippers by seven points on Monday night.
The Lakers and Grizzlies were the number three and four seeds in the playoffs out West last season, combining for 82 wins between the two of them. The Clippers won those contests by a combined 19 points.
The Cavaliers and Warriors were both bottom-three teams in their respective conferences a year ago, totaling a combined 44 wins between the two. The Clippers lost those games by a total of 11 points.
How the heck do you explain that?
That’s easy. Complacency, if anything else.
Bledsoe would tell ESPN’s Arash Markazi that so far this season, the Clippers, “don’t get up for the games [they're] supposed to win, but the games [the Clippers] play against playoff teams [they] bring it.”
Like a good episode of Intervention, more important than just simply taking note of the issue, Bledsoe had a full understanding of how to tackle the problem at hand. He said himself that, “it’s not supposed to be like that.”
He’s 100 percent right.
There is no excuse for letting winnable games slip through a team’s fingers, no matter how early or late they may be in a season.
Do teams let games get away from them over the course of a season? Of course they do. Every team goes through it. Every basketball fan watches games where their team couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat and the other team makes them feel like they’re watching the basketball scene in the movie Pleasantville on repeat.
Those games happen to everyone, but to lose games because of a lack of effort… well, that’s just inexcusable.
That’s why the undefeated San Antonio Spurs were, oddly enough, the best remedy the doctor could have ordered for the up-and-down Clippers.
The Clippers didn’t forget what the Spurs did to them roughly half a year ago.
It was as easy a sweep as the Spurs could have had in the playoffs.
They outplayed, outclassed and out-everythinged the Clippers, leading to an embarrassingly short exit in the second round.
That’s why the Spurs paying a visit to Staples Center following two frustration-filled losses came at the perfect time.
No matter who fills out the Spurs’ roster, the team always performs the same way.
Gregg Popovich-led teams consistently execute at a high level, are smart with the basketball, can shoot at a high percentage and can move the ball as well as any team in the league. No lead is ever safe against San Antonio, the Clippers know that all too well. When you play the Spurs, there truly is no margin for error.
That makes Wednesday’s blowout 106-84 win over the Spurs more than simply just a win. It allowed the Clippers to re-gather their bearings and pick themselves back up after falling flat on their faces against two beatable teams.
The Clippers had that energy back after looking overly lethargic against the Dubs and the Cavs. Staples Center was rockin’. Lob City was in full effect from start to finish. They played with passion again.
When asked after the game where all the energy came from, DeAndre Jordan’s answer in two words was, “Chauncey Billups.”
Well, whatever Billups told Jordan and Blake Griffin before the game, it worked big time.
Griffin and Jordan each topped 20 points and 10 boards for the game and had their fair share of dunks and alley-oops along the way. Chris Paul topped 10 assists for the fourth time in five games this season (he had nine against Golden State). Eric Bledsoe was his typical menacing self, tallying 15 points, five dimes, one block and one steal in 22 minutes of action. Matt Barnes chipped in a dozen big points for the Clips off the bench. Jamal Crawford hit a couple of huge buckets when the Clippers’ big fourth quarter lead began to slip away. Willie Green didn’t miss from the field, making all five of his shot attempts.
With seven players in double-figures scoring the ball, it was certainly a total team effort tonight for the Clippers on offense.
The Clips finished the night shooting 55.4 percent from the field, making that the third time in five games that they’ve made more than they’ve missed in a single game.
Defense is always a team effort, and tonight the Clippers excelled as a whole.
They forced the normally steady-handed Spurs to cough up the ball 20 times, converting their miscues into 23 points.
A testament to their team defense and how well they contested and closed out on shots, the Spurs shot just a hair over 41 percent for the game.
But more than anything else, rebounding the basketball was the key tonight for the Clippers.
They had been outrebounded in every game to start the season (by 5 vs. Memphis, by 1 vs. the Lakers, by 15 vs. the Warriors and by 5 vs. Cleveland), but tonight they outrebounded the Spurs by 17 (46-29). This conversely led to more fast break opportunities (they’d finish with 23 fast break points), where the Clippers and their athleticism excel.
It was the first game of the season where Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were both in double-figures in the rebound department, which helped greatly limit the amount of second chance opportunities for San Antonio.
The Clippers called a doctor to see what was wrong and the Spurs made a timely house call.
Now the key is to continue their play against the Trail Blazers in the always tough-to-play-in Rose Garden.
The Warriors and Cavs certainly let the Clippers know they weren’t invincible, but it just may be best for the Clippers to not let that bitter taste of reality fully leave.