LOS ANGELES -- It's official. After defeating the Denver Nuggets 112-100 in front of another sold-out crowd at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Clippers have the best record (22-6) in the NBA at the Christmas mark of the calendar.
Those who stayed up and watched the fifth game of the ESPN/ABC Christmas spectacular were in for a treat: an up-and-down game featuring fast-paced offenses, divergent defenses and loads of athleticism. In the end, though, the Clippers were just too potent offensively.
While the other Los Angeles team used its Christmas Day victory to reach the .500 mark 28 games into its season, the Clippers used their 14th straight win -- in conjunction with an Oklahoma City Thunder loss to the Miami Heat -- to secure the league's top record until at least Thursday, when they face the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.
The game wasn't necessarily easy on the eyes -- the Clippers' bright red Christmas jerseys with blue trim were a sore sight -- but the Clippers executed in a remarkable fashion and looked like the superior team for most of the night.
Chris Paul led the way with 14 points, eight assists and three steals, and provided a decisive stomach punch to the Nuggets with his 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Javale McGee to end the third quarter, giving the Clippers a 93-77 lead.
Besides Blake Griffin's usual assortment of SportsCenter-worthy dunks and plays, the third-year forward had six assists, one steal and one block, proving that he can find ways to be productive in spite of his jumper not falling.
The Clippers have had the top spot in John Hollinger's Power Rankings for over a week. This Monday, they overtook the No. 1 spot in both the ESPN and Yahoo! power rankings. It was just a matter of time until they had the record to back up those rankings.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Deepest team in the NBA
Before the game, Nuggets coach George Karl said Denver's bench was underrated and that the key was his second unit matching or surpassing the production of the Clippers' bench. Well, that plan didn't go so well. Matt Barnes had 20 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks, continuing his recent run of dominance. Jamal Crawford chipped in with 22 points and Lamar Odom had one of his best games in his second stint with the Clippers. The Nuggets starters were actually able to outplay the Clippers' starters in the first quarter, outscoring them 26-25, and even momentarily in the third quarter when they cut the lead to 10 points. But once "A Tribe Called Bench" entered the game, everything went downhill for Denver, and there no was no question which team had the better bench.
Despite their perception as a team that can spread the court, Denver is actually a poor 3-point shooting team (27th in the NBA). The Clippers took advantage of this, going zone late in the second quarter, something they rarely do, and forcing the Nuggets into tough, contested jumpers. The results paid off, as the Nuggets shot a putrid 3-for-13 (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc, while the Clippers fired on all cylinders and went 11-for-25 (44 percent). Barnes isn't a dead-eye shooter (just 31.5 percent on the season), but he connected on three 3-pointers and is quickly improving his percentage from deep in recent games. Crawford and Willie Green also hit multiple 3-pointers. The Clippers displayed an elite level of shooting we've yet to see on a consistent basis from them; it's something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Sharing the rock
One of the underrated parts of Griffin's game is his passing. He may not be at the level of Joakim Noah or Marc Gasol, but he has to be in the conversation for top-five passing big men in the league. He found numerous shooters and cutters all night, finishing with six assists, and would have finished with more had his targets simply made their shots. As a team, the Clippers were just as impressive, totaling 29 assists on just 45 field goals. That's an incredible figure, and another sign of how deep and versatile this Clipper team is.