Blake Griffin was doing his best to concentrate on the postgame interview he was doing on the court but couldn’t help but smile and laugh in between answers as he looked over and saw Chris Paul trying to get his attention. Before Griffin could finish the interview, Paul threw a towel at his face and ran away as Griffin chased after him as if they were a couple of grade-school kids playing tag.
This was the fun-loving group that came to be known as “Lob City” at the beginning of the season but lost its way during a brutal stretch of 20 games in 31 days in March, the most in the NBA in 45 years, that nearly engulfed them and cost their coach Vinny Del Negro his job.
Those dark days of March seems like a long time ago now in April after the Clippers won back-to-back games on the road for first time in two months, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves, 95-82, Thursday night, just 24 hours after arguably their biggest win of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Thursday’s win was far from easy. The injury report and the records would indicate this should have been a cakewalk for the Clippers. After all, the Timerwolves were 25-34 and had lost 15 of their last 19 games coming into the game, including seven straight, after losing Ricky Rubio for the season to a torn ACL. Joining Rubio on the inactive list Thursday were Kevin Love, Darko Milicic, Luke Ridnour, Brad Miller and Wayne Ellington.
But no game against the Timberwolves, no matter who is wearing their uniforms, has been easy for the Clippers, who were 0-3 against Minnesota this season and trailed the undermanned Wolves in the third quarter before pulling away in the second half.
The victory moved the Clippers to within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings with seven games left in the regular season and pushed them to a game and half over the Memphis Grizzlies after Memphis lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
After losing three road games in three days last month, the Clippers haven’t just turned the corner, they are steamrolling into the playoffs with the kind of momentum they haven’t had at any point this season. Since that losing streak last month, the Clippers have won 10 of 12 games, highlighted by a six-game winning streak; the franchise’s largest in 20 years. The two losses they suffered were against the Lakers and the Grizzlies, which is important because those are the two teams above and below them in the standings, but certainly nothing like the embarrassing losses they suffered earlier in the season against teams seemingly playing for nothing.
“This is very important,” said Griffin, who scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds on Thursday. “Every game we play from here on out is a very important game. It’s kind of like a playoff game for us just because we’re fighting for leverage.”
The already streaking Clippers also added another piece to their roster Thursday in Mo Williams, who had missed the last 11 games because of an injured left big toe. Williams, who was in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year award before his injury, added 14 points and five rebounds off the bench and proved to be the perfect complement to Nick Young (10 points), Kenyon Martin (eight points), and Eric Bledsoe (four points) on a suddenly potent Clippers second unit.
“In the seconds half, collectively as a group, we came together,” Williams said. “Defensively, we got stops, we got them frustrated and we let our defense fuel what we do on the offensive end instead of the other way around.”
Throughout the day at shootaround, at the team hotel and even in the locker room at the half when the Clippers were down, Paul continued to remind his teammates what they were playing for. They were playing for a playoff spot while their opponent was not. They were no longer going to lose teams with nothing to play for when they had everything to play for. It’s a rallying cry that has worked for the Clippers in their last 12 games and one Paul and the Clippers will once again use again in their next game against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.