LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul said he loves afternoon starts. He loves rolling out of bed and getting to the arena by 10 a.m. and tipping off at 12:30 p.m.
Too bad many of his fellow starters aren’t as enthusiastic about these early start times.
For the second consecutive game the Clippers played an afternoon game and for the second consecutive game they started slowly and needed to be bailed out in the end by a second unit that is slowly becoming the Clippers' closers.
After falling behind by three points in the second half on Sunday, the Clippers' bench helped regroup them and pulled away to beat the Toronto Raptors 102-83 to pad their lead atop the Pacific Division and take a five-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers after 20 games this season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
'A Tribe Called Bench'
Normally in the waning minutes of a blowout win, Staples Center empties out. But on Sunday afternoon the sellout crowd gave the Clippers' second unit a standing ovation. They had once again helped turn a Clippers deficit into a Clippers lead and turned the game into a blowout by the time it was over. The Clippers' starters once again didn't even leave the bench in the final quarter. That's now three games in a row and four of the past five during which the Clippers' second unit has been so strong that the starters have been reduced to high-paid cheerleaders. Jamal Crawford finished with 16 points and Eric Bledsoe added 14 points. Crawford now has scored in double digits in 27 straight games dating back to last season. The second unit even has a nickname now, as Clipper Nation has dubbed them, “A Tribe Called Bench.”
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro got on the Clippers' starters after Saturday's win over the Phoenix Suns. He didn't like their defensive intensity and didn't like much of what they brought to the table in the first half. Del Negro wasn't overly thrilled with the way they responded 24 hours later. The starters scored only two points in the second quarter as the Raptors took a 47-44 lead. The starters also didn't see the floor in the fourth quarter, as the second unit was able to extend L.A.’s lead and put the game away. Del Negro is more than happy to give the reserves minutes, but he'd like to see his first unit get the team off to better starts.
The way the Clippers finished the game is worthy of another note. Not only did the Clippers outscore the Raptors 25-10 in the final quarter -- going on an 18-1 run to turn it into a blowout -- they did it with a kind of ease that hasn't been seen in some time. The Clippers are easily the deepest team in the league right now, all while playing without Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill and with an out of shape Lamar Odom (who is slowly getting himself back into better playing condition). There aren't many teams that can roll out a completely different lineup of five players and be this productive ... and few teams are deep enough to finish a game with those five players. The Clippers aren't exactly where they'd like to be right now. But if their six-game winning streak is any indication of where they're going, they'll be to be a hard team to beat.