This wasn’t merely a victory over the NBA CHAMPION Miami Heat. This, Clipper fans, is the kind of affirming victory that sets forums ablaze with Laker lovers scrambling to denigrate our team with all their stale “16 titles, blah blah blah…”nonsense. For while the Lakers continue to dominate the local sports news cycles and sports talk radio, the lovable losers from down the hall have been quietly going about their business, dispatching the NBA elite with a growing sense of confidence that they – we – belong.
Wednesday night’s emphatic, if not by-the-numbers second half beat down of the Heat showcased every single facet of the Clippers attack, be it Blake Griffin and Diondre Jordan’s inside dominance, collective team speed, their reliable bench production, and even a new found sense of defensive intensity overall. Lebron got his (30 points), certainly, but that was offset by Dwayne Wade’s anemic 6 (including a mind boggling Eric Bledsoe dunk rejection). Jamal Crawford’s 22 points helped the bench extend the Clippers’ lead up to 20 mid-way through the 4th quarter before the Heat made a last gasp run to make the final score respectable.
Now we find ourselves in the oddest of positions; no longer a surprise team relying on a superstar to take over when things get desperate, the Clippers have matured into an actual elite unit, capable of winning games in a variety of fundamentally sound ways. Need to brawl with the Grizzlies? No problem. Run with the Spurs, Heat, and Thunder? Sure. As their defense improves over the rest of the season, it looks as if the real battle will be avoiding letdowns, as the lowly Cavs and Warriors proved with wins on our home floor. The road ahead will be interesting, literally, as we head into San Antonio and OKC next week, with a tough game this Saturday against the defensively smothering Chicago Bulls. It’s that stretch of games we will be watching with interest as we gradually get used to the other shoe not dropping and the always mocking Laker fans staying silent.