BEST OF 2012-13: CLIPPERS 5 BEST HOME WINS
Over the next few months, Clippers.com will continue its retrospective into the Clippers’ historic 2012-13 season. In addition, to our “A Season to Remember” editorial piece, video recaps, and taking a look back at each individual on the roster, we will also feature a “Best of” series. The second installment will take a look at the five best home wins of the season.
The Clippers were graced with a home-heavy schedule early in the season, which in some ways is almost mandatory considering their annual marathon Grammy road trip in February. They used the November and December home slate to pile up wins at Staples Center, including a number of victories against teams that wound up being amongst the final eight in the postseason.
While the Clippers won a franchise-record 32 home games, there were more than a dozen that stood out for various reasons. They beat the Grizzlies on opening night, in what served as both a rematch of the 2012 playoffs and a preview of this year’s postseason. They hammered the Spurs, offering a monumental response to a pair of questionable losses that dampened a 2-0 start to the season. They scored 46 points in the first quarter against a James Harden-less Rockets team and beat the Bulls, Hawks, Knicks, Celtics and Nets, all Eastern Conference playoff teams.
None of those made the top five.
The list was determined by the magnitude of the victory, the quality of the opponent and any peripheral circumstances that helped distinguish it from others. Here are the five best:
The Clippers’ winning streak was over after losing on Jan. 1 in Denver and Golden State capitalized on it the following night, hammering the Clippers in Oakland. It was the second time the Warriors got the best of the Clippers in the first two months of the season and the second time they approached the game with playoff-like bravado. “The first time they beat us here you’d have thought they won the NBA Finals,” Chris Paul said. The second time, in the midst of a “white out” in Oracle Arena there were taunts and gestures and an unruly display from the Warriors’ bench when Blake Griffin missed a 3-pointer off the side of the backboard as the shot clock was expiring. The antics and somewhat humiliating loss set the stage for what would later become known as the “stare down” game.
On Jan. 5, three days after losing by 21 to Golden State and a night after a 107-102 win over the Lakers the Clippers got their chance to prove a point to the up-and-coming Warriors. The eventual Pacific Division champions mauled the Warriors from the opening tip, outscoring them 35-12 in the first quarter and rolling to their12th consecutive home win and 19th win in 21 games. They played with relentless energy, probably best proven by a stretch in the third quarter, when the Clippers led by as much as 39 points. DeAndre Jordan and Paul connected on alley-oops on three consecutive possessions, leading to a Warriors timeout in which Head Coach Mark Jackson spent extra time staring towards the Clippers bench. Paul finished with 27 points, including 16 in the third, and nine assists.
As it turns out the Nuggets were far and away the best team the Clippers beat during their 17-game winning streak. Denver finished with 57 wins, one game ahead of the Clippers in the Western Conference, and beat L.A. twice in the Mile High City, including snapping the win streak six days later. But amidst the buzz of the Christmas Day finale on national television and sharp alternate red jerseys, the Clippers extended their winning streak to 14 and showed why they were perhaps the closest and deepest team in the league all at once.
The Clippers arrived at Staples Center that night wearing what they termed “ugly” Christmas sweaters. The fashion sense might have been highly questionable, but the message was clear: the Clippers were capable of being fun and, after a 12-point victory later that night, were also capable of not letting fun get in the way of work. The game went according to script during the win streak. The bench scored a season-high 64 points, Jamal Crawford went off (22 points), the Clippers had one monster quarter (42 points in the second), the starters held serve and then did not play in the fourth quarter. The win also gave the Clippers the best overall record in the league on Christmas for the first time in franchise history.
The Clippers and Heat knew each other well. They spent a week together in China in October, playing two exhibition games and attending a variety of meet-and-greets and NBA functions. There were still some vast unknowns about the Clippers, though. It was only two weeks into the season and while they had impressive wins over Memphis and San Antonio, they had also dropped a home game to the lowly Cavaliers. All of the early-season games, home or away, were likely going to be viewed as a measuring stick and who else better to gauge how your team stands than against the defending champions?
The game was tense and scrappy and filled with signature moments. Eric Bledsoe rejected a Dwyane Wade dunk attempt in the second quarter that resonated on Twitter for several days. LeBron James scored 30 points. Griffin had a double-double and led an inside-out attack. Crawford crossed over Ray Allen, causing him to stumble before knocking down a leaner. It was also the first true “bench” game in which the reserve unit of Crawford, Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf extended the lead to 20 in the fourth quarter, turning a close game into cruise control. Afterwards Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said he viewed the Clippers as legitimate title contenders and respected “what they are about.”
The second game on the list had less to do with the opponent, considering the Jazz missed the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons, and more to do with the implications of the win. It was the third time the Clippers met the Jazz in December, a scheduling quirk that continued a month later with three games against the Warriors in a span of 19 days. The Clippers were seeking their 17th straight win and the opportunity to complete the third 16-0 month in NBA history. The previous two games against Utah, both in Salt Lake City, came down to the final possession and the Jazz, while owning one of the West’s worst road records at the time, had the personnel to give L.A. trouble inside.
As had been the case in the previous two meetings, the Jazz hung around for most of the game. But 29 points from Caron Butler, a key 3-for-4 stretch from the line by Jordan when Tyrone Corbin elected to intentionally foul the Clippers’ big man, and a bailout 3-pointer by Crawford helped the Clippers withstand a Jazz rally. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro became just the third coach in history to win 16 games in month without a loss, something he also accomplished as a player with the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs.
The scene was set, the Clippers with a chance to win their first Pacific Division title against the team that has long controlled it. It so happened that they had a chance to sweep their hallway rivals for the first time since they both began playing in Los Angeles and, considering three teams finished within a game of third place in the West, there were also distinct playoff implications in the Sunday afternoon game on ABC. As if that wasn’t enough, the Clippers were perceived as floundering, despite winning twice in a row and losing by two in San Antonio five games earlier, and the chemistry between Griffin and Paul was called into question.
The superstar duo took that upon themselves against the Lakers from the opening tip. They each scored 24 points, each had double-doubles and for the first time in a while (thanks to a private pregame meeting), each were on the exact page. The Clippers dominated the Lakers on the glass (50-36), outran them in the second half and put on a performance worthy of their first division title. Griffin helped seal the game in the fourth when he connected on a 3-pointer, one of five he made all season, and threw down a fast-break dunk where it appeared he would convert a finger-roll layup and alternated to a swift right-handed throw down instead. Five Clippers scored in double figures, including Griffin, Paul and Crawford all topping 20. The all-around output from their top three scorers, the implications of the win in the city (sweeping the Lakers) and the organization (winning the division), and the fashion in which they did it, made it arguably one of the most memorable home wins in team history, not just 2012-13.