No matter its record, don’t overlook an opponent or take an easier game for granted.
With the lowly Charlotte Bobcats in town -- owners of the league’s worst record by three games -- it would have been easy for the Clippers to chalk this game up as a win before it even started and begin preparing for their upcoming road trip to Indiana and Cleveland.
Judging by the first 20 minutes of the game, it seemed like the Clippers were going to do just that. They looked lethargic, didn’t close out on shooters or drives and were stagnant offensively whenever the ball wasn’t in Paul’s hands. They trailed by as many as eight points to a team that ranks 29th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The fact that Eric Bledsoe (sore left calf) and Jamal Crawford (after the birth of his daughter, London, on Monday) were out certainly didn’t help matters.
Then, the Blake Griffin show happened.
Griffin converted on two lobs from Paul, as well as a thunderous driving slam, and the Clippers never looked back, taking a nine-point lead into the half and full control of the game.
The Staples Center crowd got into it, the Bobcats’ confidence waned and 3-pointers started raining in (Lamar Odom even made one). Before it was all over, Griffin had poured in 24 points and six assists, Caron Butler scored 16 points and Matt Barnes chipped in 17 points and seven assists. It was pure Clippers domination.
The result? The Clippers trounced the Bobcats, 106-84, and maintained control over their position as the three seed in the Western Conference.
Here are three takeaways:
Although the Clippers permanently separated themselves from the Bobcats in the third quarter, their 13-3 run in the last four minutes of the second quarter considerably shifted the game’s momentum. Led by Griffin’s dunking barrage, the Clippers quickly turned a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. Once Lob City is in high gear -- often with the Clippers applying suffocating defensive pressure and forcing turnovers that lead to highlight-reel dunks -- it’s difficult to stop them. The young and inexperienced Bobcats learned that the hard way.
Sharing the ball
Any Paul-led team is going to rack up a lot of assists, but the Clippers’ 34 assists on 41 baskets was an admirable feat. With Crawford and Bledsoe out, the Clippers’ second unit relied on sound spacing and off-ball movement to compensate for the offensive creativity the backcourt duo usually provides. Since Chauncey Billups is still on a minutes restriction, Paul had to log heavy minutes through the first three quarters (he played 32 of 36 possible minutes), causing him to dish more (13 assists) and conserve his energy for defense.
The only blemish in an otherwise impressive victory was the Clippers’ inability to contain the Bobcats on the perimeter. Gerald Henderson tormented the Clippers’ wings with 24 points on 12-of-19 shooting, making him look more like a height-of-career version of his owner (Michael Jordan) than a solid role player. Kemba Walker (15 points) and Ramon Sessions (11 points) got to the rim at will, and while they didn’t always finish, they still had high-percentage looks. The Clippers shored up the issue in the second half, but they’ll have to find a way to stop quick guards (read: Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook) from getting into the paint.