INSIDER: CLIPPERS SHOW AN ABILITY TO WIN IN MULTITUDE OF WAYS
The Clippers are a “really, really good team.”
Don’t take my word for it. Ask Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry, who led a somewhat undermanned Suns team to the 2010 Western Conference Finals. On Saturday, prior to his team’s 117-99 loss at Staples Center, Gentry iterated exactly that.
“I don’t see any reason why [the Clippers] shouldn’t be thinking about playing in June,” he said with candor.
But Gentry is not alone. NBA luminaries Rick Carlisle, Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau, whose Bulls face the Clippers for the second time this season Tuesday night in Chicago, have all said something to the effect of: “the Clippers are really, really good.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator, besides the gaudy offensive numbers of late or the improved defensive efficiency rating or the transition points or the renewed focus on protecting the ball, is simply the notion that these Clippers (14-6) are more capable than ever at winning in multiple ways.
During the weekend daytime double against the Suns and Raptors, it was the bench that flipped miniscule leads into blowouts faster than Jeff Lewis used to turn renovated homes into profit. The bench has been one of the league’s best all season, hovering around 40 points per game throughout the first 20 games, but this was different, unusual. Five reserve players spinning a game on its axis with nothing more than a batch of towel-waving encouragement from their starting teammates.
Regardless of the talent disparity between the Clippers and the weekend’s opponents, the kind of fury that the bench played with was palpable. Matt Barnes called it “overwhelming” and Jamal Crawford, when asked what’s changed since the bench was outplayed in losses at Brooklyn and Atlanta two weeks ago, said, “We adjusted to their adjustments.”
Lamar Odom looking more like Lamar Odom helps, too. Over the last five outings, the 2011 NBA Sixth Man of the Year has been a presence on both ends of the floor. He had 11 rebounds against the Mavericks Nov. 5 and eight points and eight rebounds a game later.
Eight days ago, in Utah, with Odom playing a part, the Clippers concluded a 14-point come-from-behind win. Unlike the three games that followed, where the bench played well enough to keep all five starters in warmups, it was the more expected suspects leading the charge.
Blake Griffin scored 30 points and the Clippers fought through a first half in which Head Coach Vinny Del Negro suggested they had perhaps “wasted jet fuel” by making the trip. But when “winning time” arrived Chris Paul made the two baskets that mattered most and DeAndre Jordan, who struggled offensively for much of the game, saved the victory with a swat of Al Jefferson with 28 seconds remaining.
They won in Utah with fourth quarter defense and have won plenty of other games by outgunning teams, which has become increasingly obvious with each of their 100-plus performances. Lawler’s Law is 17-0 this season and the Clippers have won 12 of them.
With Crawford, Caron Butler, Willie Green and Chauncey Billups, when he returns from a peroneal tendinitis in his left foot, among others, they are capable of fireworks from the perimeter and they also lead the NBA in fast-break points, but this is not merely run-and-gun. With Paul and two low-post threats in Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers are capable of grinding out wins, too (see: Clippers 89, Hawks 76 on Nov. 11). And the team is adamant that unlike past high-scoring teams around the league, their offense is generated by their defense.
Griffin said so again on Tuesday: “That’s the most important thing for us, defensively. When we get stops and we have a tight paint on our rotations that gets us going on offense.”
It’s, in all likelihood, the Clippers’ well-roundedness, the defensive pressure they are capable of exuding as well as their offensive diversity and flexibility, that has led to near unanimous praise from opposing coaches.
Or as Gentry said, it proves why their “really, really good.”