Don MacLean and Michael Eaves called it a “professional win.”
23 days ago, under a barrage of 3-pointers, the Clippers suffered their last loss, a 105-98 setback at the hands of the lowly New Orleans Hornets. Their record stood barely over .500 at that point, and the team faced one of those cliche “gut check” moments that could determine the rest of their season.
Were they the “same old Clippers?” Would they come apart at the seams and continue their habit (all the way back to last season) of dropping games like these to opponents on the lower rung of the NBA pecking order?
11 games later, the Clippers have answered the critics (and their own self doubts) in emphatic fashion. Yes, their streak is impressive, and only one win away from the franchise record of 12 set – as Ralph Lawler pointed out – when only one current Clippers player walked the earth (40 year old Grant Hill); however, tonight’s “professional” win over a team 1-10 in their last 11 games and coming off a hard fought contest 24 hours earlier was important because, well, it’s what championship-caliber teams DO. The Clippers are finally performing as elite teams must; beating the teams they’re supposed to beat and fattening their record, then playing their fellow contenders tough enough to gain confidence that they are worthy of making their run in the postseason. In this respect, the Clippers are forging new ground for their franchise, fans, and city.
Speaking as a 28 year fan, I still squirm each game just before tip-off, dreading that the Clippers will find ways to lose games like these. I simply can’t take anthing for granted, no matter how ridiculous their streak becomes. Such is the life of being a Clippers fan. It may take a deep playoff run, a championship trophy hoisted on the broad shoulders of Blake Griffin, or even a few more years of establishing a winning tradition before I’ll finally find the courage to relax and enjoy success. But oh me, oh MY, what a great time it is to be a Clippers fan!
I guess what impresses me most about the way the Clippers are winning is that, not at any point in this season, have they needed someone to put up 40 points to win. As the Oklahoma City Thunder ran their own winning streak to 12 tonight, I couldn’t help questioning the fact that to maintain their excellence they need Kevin Durant to score 30-plus (with Russell Westbrook not too far behind) and to play 40 minutes a night. The Clippers, to the contrary, rely on consistency and depth, with no player averaging over 20 points or topping 30 minutes a game. With Chris Paul happy to dish off to teammates he trusts will knock down shots, he can now lead and facilitate at higher efficiency, unlike last season when he had to “go Kobe” at the end of numerous contests to eke out wins. That version of CP3, though impressive to watch, was worn out by the playoffs and limped out of the grinding series with Memphis with little left in the tank. This season, it must be a scary prospect for opponents to see Paul resting comfortably on the bench at the end of most games as the reserves close them out.
And such was the case against New Orleans, who, let’s face it, the Clippers wanted to clobber as recompense for their embarrassing loss the Hornets put on them 3-plus weeks ago. In fact, after their win at Staples in November, New Orleans’ slow-footed (and obviously dim-witted) point guard, Greivis Vasquez, had the nuts to blurt out “I don’t think Chris Paul is that good.” Ahem.
Well, Mr. Vasquez, 5000 assists later (and being 5th fastest player to reach that milestone), Chris Paul is that good, and in his short 27 minute stint against the Hornets he threw in 12 more – breaking the 5000 mark appropriately with an assist to Blake Griffin (who totalled 18 points and 4 rebounds on the night) – and scored 10 points. The understated Paul looked befuddled as the crowd rose to its feet to recognize his achievement and had to be told by a teammate to look up at the scoreboard to see his own accomplishment, of which he wasn’t even aware. True to form, Paul barely cracked a smile and instead waited to the post game interview to nonchalantly acknowledge the honor of being mentioned in the same breath as Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Isaiah Thomas, and Oscar Robertson.
As for the game itself, Vasquez was swallowed up by relentless defensive pressure, managing only 5 points, while the 3-point thorn in the Clippers side Ryan Anderson was held 0-8 from 3-point range. Yes, that’s not a typo, ZERO for 8. Rookie number one draft pick Anthony Davis was banged around all night by Griffin and the rest of the Clippers interior defenders, but still managed 16 points, 5 rebounds, and a block in 42 minutes. Center Robin Lopez torched the Clippers defense for 14 first quarter points, but managed only 8 the rest of the way.
So now, with 11 games won and counting, the Clippers will welcome the Sacramento Kings into their house on Friday. It may be presumptuous to expect a victory, but this is what being “professional” is all about.
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