There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Los Angeles Clippers are a better team with Chris Paul than without him. Still, even against a playoff-caliber team like the Houston Rockets, there was enough in the lineup (Blake Griffin) and on the bench (Jamal Crawford) to win once again without their best player.
Once again, it was one of those runs the Clippers are becoming notorious for, going 33-9 during the second half (including 32-18 in the third quarter) as their swarming defense made life very difficult for James Harden (5 turnovers, 15 for the Rockets) during the second half.
Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 30 points, his 14th game of more than 20 off the bench this season. The big surprise was that Crawford did a much better job than James Harden when it came to isolation plays, accounted for the differences in efficiency and strength of both defenses. Crawford and Harden each rank in the top 15 in the league in scoring on isolation plays, but it was Crawford who was more effective and efficient, averaging 1.5 points per play on isos compared to the 0.73 by James Harden, who also shot 25% from the field in that situation.
30 Was the number of the day, as the Clippers became the second team in the NBA to reach 30 wins this season; they’re 30-9, second best in the Western Conference in another sharp contrast to their painful past. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1982, the Clippers had 13 seasons without even reaching this win total.
Another milestone was Grant Hill, almost 19 years after entering the NBA, finally clocking his 1000th career regular season game, becoming the 20th active player to reach that milestone. Hill has played in three games this season for the Clippers and finished with 4 points in 16 minutes on the floor.
Besides Crawford, it was another big night for Eric Bledsoe, showing once again that in the right system, he can be a fantastic starting point guard. He was tied for second best scorer for the Clippers, scoring 19 points and adding 8 assists, being a big part of the run that pretty much put the game to bed late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
Blake Griffin isn’t forcing the points this season. The 2011 rookie of the year is scoring less and rebounding less than before, but that also has to do with playing less minutes than he’s used to during his first two seasons in the league. The springs in the leg are still here, it’s just that he has turned a page this season, becoming a much more well-rounded player, finishing with 8 assists, to go with his 19 points, and a whole lot more of defense while even making all five of his free throw attempts, improving to 63.6% this season.
Matt Barnes (scoring 18 points) and Willie Green (15 points in 18 minutes) completed the offensive puzzle for the Clippers, winning their second game in a row without Chris Paul. More like a rest and an opportunity to give Bledsoe some more minutes, and Vinny Del Negro some more looks on which other lineups he has at his disposal that are just as dangerous as the rest.