By all appearances it seemed like the streak had come to a dead stop in Salt Lake City. The Los Angeles Clippers were down 19 points midway through the third quarter on the second night of a back-to-back, seemingly gassed. Could the Clippers finally be brought back down to earth?
Not so fast! During a 15 game winning streak in which their average margin of victory was 16.3 points per game, perhaps their victories had come too easy. But there is no quit in this Clippers team as they went on a 21-5 run in the third quarter before taking the lead late in the fourth quarter squeaking out a 116-114 win over the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz used a 36-point second quarter surge to turn a seven-point hole into a 10 point lead at halftime, 58-48.
The Clippers needed to prove that they could dig themselves out of a sizable hole late on the road after feasting on big leads and tonight in Utah they did just that. On a night where their defense and bench–two of the biggest reasons for the win streak–weren’t particularly good, the Clippers rode a season high 29 points from Chris Paul, including notching the final seven points.
Blake Griffin dropped 22 points and 13 rebounds (his 13th double-double of the season), not to mention some solid defense in the post along with fellow front court mate DeAndre Jordan, who tallied 16 points and 10 boards for his fifth double-double of the season. Jordan registered two key three-point plays in the fourth quarter, the second of which gave the Clippers a one-point lead.
If Paul and Griffin can play like this it eases the pressure off the bench to dig the team out from a deficit. All-Stars playing like All-Stars is the first necessary ingredient for a deep playoff run.
Yet the Jazz almost hung on for a victory as ex-Clipper Randy Foye hoisted a three-pointer at the buzzer initiating contact with Matt Barnes, but no foul was called.
All five Clippers starters scored in double figures and sixth man Jamal Crawford chipped in 12 points off the bench, including 10 in the second half and six in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers rally back.
It was the second time the Clippers beat the Jazz on the road during their win streak. On Dec. 3 after leading by 14, the Jazz again succumbed to the Clips second half rally, falling by a point, 105-104.
If the Clippers extend their streak by beating the Jazz at home Sunday, they will join the 1995-96 Spurs and 1971-72 Lakers as the only teams in NBA history to complete a 16-0 month.
The last time the franchise won three in a row in Salt Lake City was from 1979 to 1981, when they were the San Diego Clippers.
The game revealed more about this Clippers team than perhaps any other game during the history-making winning streak. With pressure mounting to continue their winning ways, how would the team respond to being down big late in the game? Would the team be mentally strong enough to will themselves back into the mix and not get discouraged? Who would step up and make big shots and get stops?
The answers to those questions, at least last night, was Paul and Griffin, the team’s two marquee players. Long live the streak!