The main reason the Los Angeles Clippers are off to what some may call a disappointing start this season is their defense. Yes, they did give up 107 points in a 120-107 win over the Phoenix Suns, but there was more to the victory this time than Chris Paul feeding Blake Griffin above the rim for dunks. DeAndre Jordan dominating near the rim made the big difference this time.
Jordan scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, but his 7 blocks made most of the difference. He still makes mistakes on rotations, just like Blake Griffin, which is something Doc Rivers has been trying to fix since the day he took the job. But for three quarters against the Suns before letting go of playing seriously in the final quarter with the game already in the bag, Jordan was the dominant rim protector the Clippers want to see all the time.
The big star and standout was Chris Paul with 32 points and 9 assists in maybe the best game he’s played all season. It might be the point guard by committee he saw in front of him with Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas, who always seem to have one player dragging them down during losses. This time it was Bledsoe, a former understudy of Paul’s, scoring just one point in 34 minutes. His 10 assists didn’t make up for him missing all of his field goal attempts.
Paul was scorching from beyond the arc with 5-of-6, something the Clippers in general were excellent at, getting plenty of open shots. Good defense means a lot of transition opportunities, which often results in a lot of open shots from long range. The Clippers made 14-of-29, making up for their 20 turnovers, which were negated by the Suns shooting just 38.4% from the field.
Blake Griffin had plenty of opportunities above the rim, finishing with 19 points and 7-of-12 from the field to go along with 8 rebounds, and three more players; J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes finished in double figures. The 42 points scored by the Clippers in the third quarter were a knockdown the Suns never really recovered from, even after winning the fourth quarter by nine points.
The Clippers have the tools to contend for the title. The Thunder will be back one day but might be falling too far behind. The Spurs are in their usual post-championship syndrome half the time. The West is completely open. If the Clippers can get over the same things that have been plaguing them for years, which is lazy defense on too many possession and Paul melting down in crunch time, this might finally be the year they take it to the next level.