The Clippers have arrived.
Not arrived like a powerhouse in the Western Conference. Not even arrived like they will be a playoff team (they dug too big a hole early on to climb out of it).
But arrived on the national radar. You need to be watching this team.
Wednesday they announced their arrival with a 111-105 victory over the Miami Heat, snapping the Heat’s 13-game road winning streak.
With athletes all over the floor and Blake Griffin dunking everything he can get his hands on, the Clippers have been a show since the start of the season. But lately a number of things have come together — better defense on pick and rolls, more consistent play from role players, a rejuvenated Baron Davis — that has propelled them to being 7-3 in their last 10 (but just 13-24 overall, hence the playoff problem).
As much as it was the Clippers doing things right, it was the Heat coming out flat that decided this game. The Clippers wanted to make a statement, the Heat played like they wanted to get to In-n-Out Burger. The result was Los Angeles shooting 17-of-22 in the first quarter with eight dunks — which meant a 44-26 lead after one quarter. That was a hole the Heat would never climb out of even though they won the next three quarters.
Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said success may have been the problem — they have had so much Miami did not come out with the requisite focus. You had seen that building in previous games but this was the one where it came back to bite them, Spoelstra said. The Heat’s lack of energy showed up in transition, where the Clippers were just flat out beating the Heat down the floor.
Here’s the Clippers real secret to why they are playing better — Baron Davis has played well the last couple weeks. Spoelstra said that after watching tape of recent games that they expected this “good” version of Davis, adding it looks to him like Davis is finally healthy.
Physically he may be right, but it’s the better choices that are key. Davis has stopped the pull-up threes with 20 seconds on the shot clock (well, there was one against the Heat but you can’t expect a guy just to quit cold turkey), and instead he is attacking the rim. He has always been a guy who can set people up, especially when he drives, but he’s also the guy now settling down the offense. Davis even had a power dunk in traffic, which had the crowd checking to make sure this wasn’t Pauley Pavilion circa 1998.
Starting in the second quarter the Heat’s defensive intensity picked up — they were active and closing out, not just giving up threes — but by then the Clippers had gained confidence. They felt like they could do it, and that showed all the way through the fourth quarter — when the Heat would make a run (they got the lead all the way down to two at one point) the Clippers had an answer. You kept waiting for the Heat to take control with a huge run, but the Clippers never let them. Eric Gordon (who finished with a team high 26) pushed the Heat back with some quick buckets.
To help seal it, in the fourth quarter Griffin (who had 24 points and 14 rebounds) and Mario Chalmers got in a little argument that led to both getting technical fouls. Next time he got the ball Griffin attacked and threw down one of his signature dunks, then glared at Chalmers as they ran up the court. Note to other teams: Don’t make Blake Griffin angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
Consider Dwyane Wade and LeBron impressed. They see a future for these Clippers.
“They have the talent,” Wade said. “This is a young team, and I’ve been on a team before that didn’t start out that well but once we got it going and we figured it out, it was my rookie (year), we became a pretty tough team to play, especially at home.
“So, they got to have this kind of effort every night, to be that kind of team in the Western Conference. Hopefully they see what they did right here and they could turn this franchise around.”
James echoed those thoughts.
“I think the key is, for a young team, or for a team that wants to become good, like D-Wade said you have to show up every night,” James said. “You can’t just show up for the Heat, or show up for the Lakers, or for the Celtics. It’s easy to get up for those games, it’s going to be sellouts and 19,000 fans in the crowd, it’s easy to get up for those games. But when you play some of the teams that record wise are not that good you still play with that same intensity.”
We’ll see how intense the Clippers are Friday night up in the Bay Area against Golden State.