If you would have told me a few years ago that the Clippers would win 3 out of 3 games on the road I would have dismissed you as mentally challenged; but that mentality and thinking, at least as a fan since 1991, is all in the past. I now believe this Clippers squad can beat any team, anywhere, even without our star point guard, Chris Paul.
The Clippers started their road trip on Monday against a tough Memphis Grizzlies team with a surprisingly easy 99-73 win, travelled to Houston the very next night and throttled them in their building, then hoped to end their road trip with another win Thursday night against Minnesota Timberwolves. Chris Paul, who was named one of the starters for the West All-Star game, along with his teammate Blake Griffin, did not play for the third straight game due to a bruised right knee. With Jamal Crawford and the rest of the squad rallying around their leader in his absence, It seems like even without Paul playing, the Clippers are still a formidable foe.
In Minnesota against the Timberwolves, Willie Green started the night with a three pointer, continuing his strong contributions of late. I am a big Willie Green fan, so it was great to see him have a great start. Eric Bledsoe, who has been starting due to Paul not playing, picked up two quick fouls with 8:42 left of the first quarter forcing Coach Vinny Del Negro to put in Jamal Crawford. Crawford who scored 30 points in Houston the previous game, scored 22 points with 2 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 assists. The team looked a little tired overall, but still managed to defend well enough to beat back a proud Minnesota team that has seen its team decimated by injuries all season.
This lapse in energy showed itself with a lot of turnovers in the second quarter and for the game, overall. With only a slim lead, they needed to start the third quarter with more energy and their defense kept their opponent from mustering any sustained runs. Despite them playing a bit sloppy, the Clippers still shot 52% and held the Timberwolves to only 33%. The Clippers had 3 players in double figure while the Timberwolves only had 1 player in double figures late in the quarter.
Nursing a delicate 5 point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Clippers mustered up a 16-6 run and basically put the game away as Minnesota never threatened from that point. Unfortunately, Minnesota saw two more players head for the trainer’s table with injuries, as Nicola Pekovic and Alexey Shved. Rony Turiaf provided some comic relief when he air balled a free throw, but congratulations are in order for Turiaf, who had his first double figure points since March 2011. With 8:31 left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers’ starters had 38 points and their bench had 40 points as the Clippers led from tip to final horn. It was nice to see Ryan Hollins play even if it was only for 28 seconds. Hollins didn’t have any points but he did have a rebound. De’Andre Jordan and Bledsoe both had quiet nights. Jordan had 3 points and Bledsoe had 2 points.
The Clippers have now extended their winning streak to 3 while the Timberwolves are (sadly) losers of five in a row. The Clippers now have a record of 31-9 and they are just half a game back behind Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA. It will be fitting if the two teams are tied next week for their showdown at Staples Center!