So that’s how a championship team from Los Angeles plays through injuries.
As their starting backcourt of Paul and Chauncey Billups sat on the bench in suits, the Clippers beat the Houston Rockets 117-109 to improve their record to 30-9, second-best in the NBA, and win their 30th game faster than any other team in franchise history.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Without Paul and Billups, who has missed all but three games this season with peroneal tendonitis in his left foot, the rest of the Clippers guards stepped up and made up for their absence. Jamal Crawford (30), Eric Bledsoe (19) and Willie Green (15) finished with season-high point totals and came through in the second half as the Clippers took a one-point deficit and jumped out to a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. Crawford not only scored a game-high 30 points but scored 12 straight points in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter to put the game away. “He’s a bad boy,” Grant Hill said as Crawford got ready to do an on-court interview with Prime Ticket after the game.
“Hopefully, we can get Chris back healthy [on Thursday],” Crawford said. “If not, we have to hold down the fort until he gets back.”
For the second straight night, the Clippers came with a defensive intensity that had been missing during their recent homestand. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro preached the importance of defense to his team at the half and told them that how they played in the third quarter and their ability to contain James Harden would dictate the final result. The Clippers certainly came through on both fronts. They held Houston to just 18 points after Houston had scored 30 in the third quarter. And after Harden scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first quarter, he was held to just 9 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the final three quarters.
“Coach told us we had to play defense,” Crawford said. “We had scored enough points, but we had to buckle down on defense. I thought we did a good job of that in third quarter, the starters set the tone and we followed suit.”
Balance and options
Most of the attention after the Clippers’ win will go to the play of their backcourt, but the key to the Clippers’ success this season is getting contributions from everyone on the roster. Blake Griffin scored 19 points and had a season-high eight assists. Lamar Odom scored only two points but grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Matt Barnes was once again a consistent contributor off the bench with 18 points and three rebounds. And perhaps one of the biggest bright spots for the Clippers over the past three games has been the return of Grant Hill, who is beginning to get his feet back under him after missing the first 36 games of the season with bone bruises in his right knee.
“It feels good to be on a good team,” Hill said. “There’s a lot of support and care for one another. We have a chance to win every night, and this team has a chance to win a championship.”