There are plenty of weaker teams than the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA, but no one actually gets this team motivated quite like the Lakers, helping them set a few records along the way. Two days later, facing the sliding Atlanta Hawks proved to be a lot more difficult, and if it wasn’t for Jeff Teague’s incompetency from the line, it could have ended very differently than a 109-108 win.
With the Clippers up by two, Teague drove to the basket against a defense that struggled in man on man situations all game long. He was fouled with 1.2 seconds left in the game. An 83.2% shooter from the line, that should have been overtime. But Teague missed the first shot. The Hawks’ only hope was him missing and somehow scoring off the offensive rebound. Teague tried to miss, but hit the perfect spot on the board and scored, ruining his team’s chance to win by actually making a shot.
The Clippers, as usual, were fun to watch. Chris Paul setting up lobs for DeAndre Jordan off the backboard and the improving passing game between Blake Griffin and his frontcourt partner. Griffinled the way with 27 points, and the entire lineup scored in double digits: Chris Paul with 19 points and 10 assists, Jordan also with a double double of 13-12. Matt Barnes continues to be a very effective lineup player, scoring 17 points, and Darren Collison added 12.
However, the Clippers turned the ball over 18 times, including a combined 15 by Griffin, Barnes and Collison who were very sloppy with their passing. If the Hawks wouldn’t have been hurt by the quality (or lack of) that their bench players put on the floor, maybe it would have taken more than Teague’s gaffe at the line to actually come away with the win, and stay level with the Rockets at third in the West, while keeping a reasonable three-game distance from the Thunder and Spurs.
Both teams shot very well because of bad defenses, but the Clippers made the most of Atlanta’s terrible interior defending. They scored 60 points in the paint and enjoyed 13 offensive rebounds, as Griffin and Jordan felt very comfortable without anyone really managing to box them out. The Al Horford injury hasn’t destroyed the season for the Hawks, but they have lost six in a row and only one out of their last ten games, looking like the most likely team currently in the playoff picture to fall out of it by the time this season ends.
Record nights for franchies starving for achivements can be dangerous. The Clippers might have been still dizzy from tearing apart the Lakers. Paul said it didn’t really mean anything more than just another win, but it’s hard to believe his mindset was shared by everyone, including the head coach who probably took some joy in seeing a team he has lost to in the Finals reach an absolute low.
The Clippers are fun, but it’s going to be more than the enjoyement factor that makes them worthy of an NBA title. If Rivers can’t get his players to play great defense in the postseason, all of the lob city persona, the improvment we’ve seen from Blake Griffin and Chris Paul’s greatness aren’t going to help.