No team in the NBA cares about winning their division, and the Los Angeles Clippers are no different. Their 112-108 win over the Phoenix Suns meant that they get the meaningless title, but for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the real goal is simply doing better than they did last year in the postseason.
The Suns, fighting to get into the playoffs, don’t really know how they let this game slip away from them, as the loss drops them to ninth place in the Western conference, losers of the 3-way tie (44-31 record) with the Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies.
With 1:49 left in the third quarter, following a 22-5 run, the Suns held a 94-79 lead. But the Suns’ bench didn’t have a good game, while Jared Dudley scored 12 points and the Clippers kept their high flying ways and ability to get on the fast break as the edge to get back in the game. Eventually it was a huge, deep, 3-pointer from Chris Paul that brought them the lead late in the fourth quarter, and before you know it Eric Bledsoe tried to save the day by running into two bigger players before failing to get a shot up, falling out of bounds. Dudley sealed the game with two free throw shots, and the Clippers were off to their 17th win in 19 games.
Griffin continues to suffer from back pains, but it didn’t stop him from scoring 23 points and providing another huge highlight film dunk, this time jumping on the back of DeAndre Jordan to make it happen. Chris Paul scored 20 points and had nine assists but it was a rough game for him, maybe trying a bit too hard to score on his own, somewhat over motivated by facing Goran Dragic (15 points, only 2-of-11 from the field) and Bledsoe.
Darren Collison continues to play like he isn’t actually a designated backup point guard, scoring 23 points, and Matt Barnes with 19 is yet another player who spent the earlier parts of this season on the bench. In his case, it had to do with Dudley disappointing and not injuries to Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick, but it doesn’t make Collison’s form any less impressive.
Clinching a playoff spot and the division, the Clippers seem to be well on their way to finish third in the West, which means playing the Warriors next. Last season it all crumbled for them in the first round after taking a 2-0 lead against the Grizzlies. This season, nothing short of a conference final will satisfy a team that isn’t used to making three playoffs in a row, not to mention actually being expected to go far in the postseason. They’re not favorites to win the championship, but falling short of the conference final considering the talent and ability in the second half of the season will be a disappointment.
It’s nice but it doesn’t really mean much. We won the division title last year and lost in the first round. Last year we would have gone into the game knowing we had a chance to win the division. Now we don’t care, it’s all about the bigger picture.