Rapid Reaction: Clippers 94, Wizards 87
January, 19, 2013
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro had an ever-so-slight smile on his face before the game when he said Chris Paul would be a game-time decision against the Washington Wizards.
He knew there was no way Paul was going to sit out a fourth straight game if he was well enough to play.
It had been a full week since Paul bruised his right kneecap against the Orlando Magic, and he was ready to return to the court after watching his team go 3-0 and win their games by an average margin of 14.6 points per game without him.
Paul, however, still couldn’t cure the Clippers’ recent lackadaisical play at home against subpar opponents. The Clippers had barely beaten the Dallas Mavericks before squandering a 13-point lead and losing to Orlando last week. Against Washington on Saturday, the Clips led by as many as 12 points late but had to hang on. After escaping with a 94-87 victory, they improved to 32-9, the second-best record in the NBA.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Clippers often talk about winning games they sometimes don’t deserve to win, and Saturday might well have been one of those games when you look at the final box score. The Clippers finished the game shooting just 36.6 percent from the field, with their top players failing to get anything going offensively. Chris Paul was just six of 16, Blake Griffin was five of 18 and Jamal Crawford was three of 13. As bad as Paul and Griffin’s night was shooting, the play of Crawford may have hurt the Clippers most. The team, and certainly the bench, feeds off Crawford’s energy and productivity, and when he’s off, it shows. Crawford simply didn’t have it on Saturday, finishing with just seven points and missing all four of his 3-point attempts.
During the Clippers’ three-game road trip, they did a good job of building upon on their leads late in games and putting teams away. It’s actually something the second unit has accomplished more often than not this season; they will take a 10-point lead in the third quarter and make it a 20-point lead in the blink of an eye to blow the game wide open. Those are the nights when the starters can take the fourth quarter off and the Clippers’ second unit can continue to build on the chemistry it has. In the Clippers’ past three home games, however, the bench hasn’t been able to do that. Against Orlando last week, the Clippers' 13-point lead eventually turned into a loss. And against Washington, the Clippers' 12-point lead in the fourth quarter shrunk to just a point with less than two minutes left.
Paul and Bledsoe
Paul certainly wasn’t 100 percent on Saturday, but he was well enough to be back on the court. He may not have looked like himself at times, but he still finished with 22 points and 11 assists in 35 minutes. Paul only hit six of 16 shots, but his presence was a welcome sight for the Clippers at the end of the game when he hit a step-back jumper with 32.4 seconds left to put the game away. After he made the shot, Paul had a huge smile on his face and bent down and glided towards the Clippers bench, like Wizards guard Bradley Beal had done earlier in the game. Paul then jumped up and chest bumped Eric Bledsoe. While Bledsoe didn't play as many minutes as he did the past three games in place of Paul, his development and growth during that time was evident as he led all reserves with 11 points and seven rebounds.