LOS ANGELES – In the waning moments of the Los Angeles Clippers' 48-point victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, Glen “Big Baby” Davis got up during a timeout and entertained his teammates by dancing to Alexandra Stan’s "Mr. Saxobeat."
It was shades of the old “Big Baby,” of when he was a role player and a glue guy for a Boston Celtics team that went to two NBA Finals in three seasons and beat the Lakers to win it all in 2008.
Davis wasn’t able to be that kind of player with the Orlando Magic, but when he got a call from Doc Rivers after negotiating a buyout from the team, he jumped at the chance to not only play for his former coach again, but to also once again be a role player on a contender.
“My role with Boston and not being there and not being in that role, you kind of miss it when you go to another team and you have to do other things other than what you do,” Davis said when he joined the Clippers. “Here I can just do what I do and it will be magnified and glorified as something important because we’re trying to win something bigger than self. It means a lot for me to be here right now.”
Davis is the only player on the current Clippers roster that has won a championship, and as he looked around the locker room Thursday night after the Clippers’ sixth straight win, he could see the makings of another title team.
“It’s a special thing,” Davis said. “It’s one of those things you can’t really describe. You can’t really put your finger on it, but you feel it and it feels good, and I feel it it in the locker room. It’s a belief. It’s almost to the point of supernatural belief. We’re not only starting to believe but putting in the work. Now when you combine the two, you have a deadly combination of guys who can play the game the right way and are so athletic. You can mix athleticism and the right way of playing every time with a great coach like Doc -- the sky is the limit.”
Rivers stopped short of saying he had the same feeling about this Clippers team as he did about his 2008 Celtics, but said he does sense them turning the corner with fewer than 20 games left in the regular season, defensively in particular.
“You can feel us starting to believe in our defense and being in the rights spots,” said Rivers, in his first season as Clippers coach after nine in Boston. “What I like now is every time one of them is not there, they point at themselves right away, they know it. I would prefer them not to do that and to be there, but they’re getting there and they’re taking ownership when they don’t. If we defend, we can run. It’s tough to run when you’re taking the ball out of bounds.”
As good as the Clippers have been on offense -- they lead the league in scoring, with an average of 107.7 points per game -- everyone in the locker room continues to point to their defense as the big reason for their current win streak and for why they are within reach of a top-two seed in the West.
“It was our defense,” Paul said after Thursday’s victory. “That second unit, when they came in in the second quarter, it’s funny, we had a 15-point lead and they called a timeout, and Blake [Griffin] and I were at the scorer’s table and Blake and I actually asked Doc, ‘Could they stay in?’ because they were doing so well. We fed off that. We fed off that energy, and to start the second half we just kept the defensive pressure on them.”
The biggest improvement for the Clippers defensively has come from behind the arc. They have jumped from 26th in the NBA last season to first in 2013-14 in 3-point defense -- allowing opponents to shoot 32.6 percent, down more than 4 percentage points from a year ago.
“I think it’s three or four or five games in a row now, at some point our defense has kind of clicked on,” Rivers said. “That’s the difference really.”
If the Clippers can continue scoring the way they have and start to play the kind of defense Rivers has been preaching about since the start of the season, they might finally be rounding into the kind of contenders many predicted they would be. There are just less than six weeks left in the season, but perhaps for the first time, glimpses of a championship team are starting to come into sight.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Paul said. “Early in the season you say you don’t want to peak too early, but now we’re just building. We don’t want to get too high or too low -- we want to just keep getting better.”