It wasn’t as much small ball as it was win at all costs ball, but no matter the Clippers managed to stifle the Pistons Sunday using effectively three guards, a small forward, and Blake Griffin in the final minutes of regulation and overtime.
They held Detroit, winners of 12 of their previous 18 games coming into the game, to nine points in the fourth quarter and five in the final 7:01. The Pistons missed six of their final eight shots in regulation and turned the ball over four times. Overall, they finished with 17 turnovers (12 steals by L.A.) and shot 38.3% from the field and 12.5% (2-for-16) from 3-point range.
“That’s the whole thing, we’ve got to buckle down and understand that offense is not going to win games. It could win games on easy days, but it’s going to take defense [overall] like it did tonight,” said Randy Foye, who along with Chris Paul, Caron Butler, Nick Young, and Griffin made up the team’s five-man unit for most of the crunch time minutes.
Arguably, the two best defensive possessions of the game for Clippers came when they needed them the most. With the game tied at 74 and 19.2 seconds remaining in the fourth, wiry forward Tayshaun Prince dribbled down the clock with Caron Butler in front him and as Prince moved towards the baseline, Paul quickly double teamed to swipe the ball away and heave up a 64-foot shot at the buzzer.
After Paul gave the Clippers a five-point lead in the first 2:38 of overtime, the Pistons retook the lead with six consecutive points from Greg Monroe. Paul dropped in the go-ahead basket, a 16-foot fade away over Brandon Knight after Paul hop-stepped to his right. The Clippers led 83-82, but the Pistons had a chance to take the lead with 22.1 seconds remaining.
After Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank called timeout, Detroit inbounded the ball from the far sideline. Six seconds later Monroe took a spinning, well-contested layup against Kenyon Martin, who subbed in for Griffin, from the lane. A wild scramble for the carom ensued, with Butler and Monroe getting tied up. The Clippers ultimately gained possession on the jump ball and Paul flipped the ball ahead for a layup.
“We really just made sure we were on our rotations,” Griffin said. “Everybody was helping and when there were shots missed everyone went after the ball.”
Both plays were indicative of the effort during that stretch. Griffin battled Monroe, despite giving up several inches in reach to the long-armed center. And Butler played tight on Prince, even though Prince scored twice over him in the fourth quarter.
“We definitely have to be more consistent [on defense],” Paul said. “They hit some tough shots tonight. Tayshaun Prince hit some tough shots with a hand in his face. Blake played good defense on Greg Monroe and these are professional players, they’re going to make those some nights.”