Chris Paul has a phrase for moments late in games that are still in the balance. “It’s winning time,” he will shout from the bench. He’ll shout it after every made shot and every stoppage in play as a constant reminder to his teammates it is their moment to seize the game and take what’s theirs.
It’s a new mindset for the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that hasn't experienced “winning time” much in their star-crossed history.
With Paul, however, those days are a thing of the past. They now expect to win close games on the road, as they did Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls. Not surprisingly, Paul was the center of attention at the end of the game, hitting a jumper and three free throws in the final 28 seconds to seal the 94-89 win for the Clippers.
The Clippers aren’t just winning closes games these days, they’re winning all kinds of games -- at home, on the road, blowouts, nail-biters -- during this seven-game stretch of victories, their longest such streak since 1991.
While Paul is the closer on the road, Blake Griffin is continuing to show why he was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three assists and a steal. Griffin continued to show his expanded midrange game with a couple of bank shots, and he even hit his first 3-pointer of the season. His long-range shot was so clean that Paul dished a ball out to Griffin for another 3 before the half, but it rimmed out. If Griffin can develop his midrange game to go along with his arsenal around the basket (he had six dunks on Tuesday), he’ll be a bigger nightmare for defenses than he already is.
“A Tribe Called Bench”
The newly named Clippers’ second unit took its show on the road for the first time and didn’t miss a beat. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford nearly played the entire fourth quarter, combining for 24 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Eric Bledsoe came on strong in the fourth quarter, as well, hitting three of four shots for six points. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro mixed and matched the lineup by putting Griffin in with the second unit, instead of Ronny Turiaf, as customary. The group worked well together and extended the Clippers' lead to nine points in the fourth quarter.
“Our team is amazing because it’s a team effort every night,” Paul told Prime Ticket on the court after the game. “We don’t usually have a guy that’s going to score 30 or 40 every night; we always play as a team.”
The Clippers have been in this position before. The last time they went on the road for four games, they won the first game in San Antonio before losing the next three at Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Atlanta at the outset of a four-game losing streak. “Not this time,” Paul said when asked about the previous road skid. The Clippers don’t expect history to repeat itself this time as they try to extend their winning ways to a franchise-record 10 straight with wins in Charlotte, Milwaukee and Detroit.