It’s been a LONG time since we last saw THESE Clippers, hasn’t it?
With a full roster of healthy players and Chris Paul at the helm to guide them, the Clippers strolled into Madison Square Garden and reminded just about everyone why they once held the best record in the NBA, won 17 in a row in December, and why they are capable of a deep playoff run. Paul shook off the rust from his first game back Friday in Miami to torch the New York Knicks for 25 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals (with ONE turnover) in barely 30 minutes of action in a 102-88 victory to improve their record to 36-17 and bolster hopes for a break even road trip at 4-4. Here are five takeaways from the win:
Chris Paul reminded everyone of why he’s an MVP candidate.
It wasn’t just the aforementioned numbers that tell the story, but the game management Paul brought back in his return to form. To put it bluntly, there is not another player in the NBA who can control a game like CP3. Like a general overseeing his troops, he just knows when to score, when to pass, when to push, and when to slow things down. With the Clippers holding on to a single point lead going into the 4th quarter, Paul calmly guided them to a double digit lead, doing whatever was necessary – pass, shoot, steal, rebound, or assist – to secure the win.
Lob Deep is back.
As the roster returned to some semblance of its original form, the bench could return to being, well, the bench. Eric Bledsoe, unburdened by starting pressures, took the helm and the Clippers bench outscored their Knicks counterparts 48-15. That’s not typo, folks, as Jamal Crawford led with 27 points and Eric Bledsoe added 13 (with 4 rebounds and 3 assists). Lamar Odom grabbed 7 rebounds and dished out 5 assists of his own and Matt Barnes returned to his focus on defense, harassing everyone in sight in a good defensive effort, overall. On an added note, Ryan Hollins seems to have earned extra playing time at the expense of Rony Turiaf, who was inactive along with Willie Green.
Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, and Eric Bledsoe settle back into their proper roles.
Points aside, it was immediately apparent that the two reserves were overjoyed to be back in their proper roles, Crawford getting all the shots he wanted and Bledsoe’s energy a nice contrast to the methodical Chris Paul. Crawford’s 27 points on 12-22 shooting (though only 3-8 from 3-point range) was greatly helped by Lamar Odom’s passing and screens, while Odom’s court knowledge and presence kept everything running smoothly. As a testament to Odom’s performance, he finished up with zero personal fouls.
After a huge, 17 point 3rd quarter that saw the Knicks climb to within a single point at 71-70, the Clippers assigned Grant Hill to cover Anthony for the entire 4th quarter. The result? ‘Melo got off only two shots. You didn’t read that incorrectly – 2 total shots. Hill picked up Anthony early in his dribble, stayed glued, and the Clippers fired out help whenever the opportunity presented itself. That Hill is still able to defend at this level at 40 years of age is miraculous.
This win was one of the season’s most important.
Before Paul’s injury three weeks ago, the Clippers owned the NBA’s best record, were flying high on a four game winning streak, and looked to be a lock for the Western Conference Finals against either Oklahoma City or San Antonio. Since then, they’ve lost 9 of their last 12 and were only 6-6 without Paul in the lineup. Doubts were starting to creep in as the losses piled up, rivals started creeping up in the standings, and the team looked confused and lost at key moments when victories turned into losses (i.e. Boston and Portland, to name two examples). The thrashing at the hands of the Miami Heat, though painful to watch, came with the silver lining that the full roster was back on the court and good things might be possible. The win over the first place Knicks on the road was a badly needed reminder of how much promise this team possesses and the taste of success may be back in their mouths at last.
Topics: Blake Griffin, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, LA Clippers, Lamar Odom, Lob City, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Clippers, Matt Barnes, NBA, New York Knicks, Ronny Turiaf, Vinny Del Negro