There was a time in this NBA season, before the calendar turned to 2013, when we mentioned the Clippers in the same breath as Oklahoma City, San Antonio and even Miami. The Clippers rattled off 17 straight wins, not losing one game in December, they were defending and they looked like contenders.
But then as the Clippers defense got sloppy and they battled through injuries, they looked very beatable. The easy points, the highlight dunks were still there but the team was less impressive as it slogged through the dog days of the season. They looked like a good team but one you could beat come the playoffs.
However, while everybody was focused on the playoff push for that other team in Los Angeles, the Clippers rattled off a string of wins to end the NBA season.
Now they’ve beaten the Memphis Grizzlies twice in a row— once by just flat out abusing the NBA’s second best regular season defense, the next time by playing some good defense of their own.
And suddenly we need to ask — have the Clippers got their groove back?
That will get put to the test in Memphis, on the road against a good team that knows it needs to win both on their home court to make this a series.
But if you remember the December run by the Clippers it looked and felt like the last couple games — there were a lot of blow outs (the won by an average of 16 points that month) but when it was close at the end Chris Paul made plays. There was never any doubt all season that with Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford to go with CP3 (and solid role players around them) Los Angeles could score. What the Clippers did that month well was reduce turnovers (only 13 percent of their possessions resulted in a turnover, their lowest percentage of any month) and they defended better than any team in the NBA for a stretch.
The Clippers returned to that defense in Game 2 Monday, holding the Grizzlies to 97 points per 100 possessions.
Now comes the test — can they do it on the road?
If they can we’ll see if they should be mentioned in the same class as the Thunder. Because that’s who they’d get in the next round.
If it is December again in Los Angeles, if the Clippers are defending and taking care of the ball, they are a threat in that series. They are a threat against anyone.