Originally Published: December 22, 2013

1. Four Score: How Elusive Clips Sit Now In West

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Maybe the Los Angeles Clippers take more of their cues from Blake Griffin than we think. When the Clippers lose, it doesn't feel like he was the reason they lost. Then again, you don't often find yourself pointing to Griffin as the reason the Clippers won, either.

The Clippers occupied that same middle ground Sunday night when they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime without playing winning basketball. They also somehow managed not to lose even though the Timberwolves had a four-point lead with 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and were ahead by two points with the ball with 10 seconds remaining.

Blake Griffin
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin had 32 points and a scoring duel with Minnesota's Kevin Love (45 points).

It led to some seemingly contradictory quotes from Clippers coach Doc Rivers, which included:

•  "It was a great lesson for us."

•  "We scored 120 points, and I'm complaining. And I should. I thought the way the game was going, we should have been better."

•  "I just like that our team's coming together."

•  "We have a long way to go as far as play."

The words fit a team that has been fighting with itself for an identity. The Clippers came into the season wanting to be better on defense but found the victories came easier when they allowed the offense to lead them. Then their best shooter, J.J. Redick, got hurt, and points were harder to come by. So they got it together on defense and became a unit that's in the top 10 in opponents' points and field goal percentage.

"We've had the effort, in my opinion, all year," Rivers said before the game. "We just weren't in the right places all year. And now we're just starting to get to the right spaces, the right places. Our talk, defensively, has been phenomenal. Weakside defense is improving."

Then again, after the game, Rivers said: "We were bad in our traps. We were awful at it."

The Clippers were overly emotional, with technical fouls on Rivers and DeAndre Jordan and a flagrant foul 2 by Matt Barnes. They allowed Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic to destroy them inside and rack up a combined 79 points. They let Minnesota grab 19 offensive rebounds and beat them 54-45 overall on the boards. Then again, in a classic case of "don't let the other guys hurt you," there were two Timberwolves starters (Corey Brewer and Ricky Rubio) who combined for three points.

The Clippers, meanwhile, kept finding new volunteers. A slumping Chris Paul scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and made the steal from Kevin Martin that enabled the Clippers to tie the score in the final 10 seconds of regulation. Darren Collison scored 18 points. Jared Dudley made the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime after missing his first six attempts on the night.

Griffin carried them early on and was the best player on the court for much of the first half, right up until he inexplicably fouled Love while Love tried a desperation heave from the backcourt right before the second-quarter clock expired. Love made the three free throws, which pushed him ahead of Griffin in the first-half scoring column, 22-20.

Before then, Griffin had been effective driving and scoring on counter moves when his direct path to the basket was cut off. He had to manufacture more on his own, once the Clippers' offense got stuck in the second half. He created chances when none existed, such as the backcourt steal (one of four steals in the game) that he turned into a basket to salvage what had appeared to be a fruitless trip downcourt. He had 32 points and 10 rebounds. He cashed in on 10 of his 11 free throws.

"That was the key for me," Griffin said. "I just picked and [chose] some spots in the second half. A couple of times, I settled, just being tired. That's something I've got to learn."

We can allow a 24-year-old time to learn, can't we? As popular as he is with enough NBA fans to have an All-Star voting lead over Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, there's also a backlash from those who feel Griffin is overrated. There's nothing wrong with averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game for a winning team.

Sunday was evidence that he doesn't quite have it all together yet. As successful as he was at the free throw line, he made only one of his five jump shots during the game. He had mixed results in the fourth quarter, making two of five shots. He caught an elbow from Love that opened a cut on his forehead (but didn't prompt a video review to check on an upgrade to a flagrant foul, to the Clippers' dismay). He fouled out less than a minute into overtime.

Griffin lost the power forward matchup to Love, who finished with 45 points, 19 rebounds and six assists. But his team won the game. And as good as Love continues to be, he's facing the prospect of yet another postseason spent at the crib. At some point, that will come to define him.

If we struggle to define the Clippers, that's on us. It's a product of exuberant expectations by some, nasty dislike by others. The Clippers have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference (20-9) and the fourth-best scoring margin (plus-6.0). That feels about right. Upper echelon, but not elite. In position to win a playoff series, but not in the same company as Oklahoma City and San Antonio, which appear to be the Western Conference finalists.

They have their flaws, including frontcourt depth and a tendency to over-rely on Paul late in games. They also have a winning streak that stretched to five, courtesy of a hard-to-describe game that only Griffin found easy to summarize: "We didn't give up."

Dimes past: Dec. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19

J.A. Adande | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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