Blake Griffin stood in the back of the visitor’s locker room at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon before the Los Angeles Clippers got ready to head to Philadelphia for the final game of their 8-game, 14-day road trip.
“We’d like to get a win there,” Griffin said. “And have a feeling of turning the ship around, no pun intended.”
Griffin can be a comedian during his postgame news conferences after wins, so when he saw the blank look on the faces of a couple of reporters, he smiled and said, “You know, like a Clipper ship.”
And with that, Griffin probably became one of the few Clippers players ever to demonstrate that he actually knew the origin of the team’s name, which came from the fast sailing ships or “clippers” that used to pass through the San Diego harbor when the team resided there.
On Wednesday, the Clippers will play the Houston Rockets, another team that can trace its roots and name to San Diego, which was the home of the Atlas missile and booster rocket program when the team was formed.
It will be the Clippers’ only home game during a 24-day period that includes nine road games and the NBA All-Star break. The good news for the Clippers is after this stretch they will finish the season with 15 of their final 26 games at home.
Also on the good-news front for the Clippers is they have appeared to right the ship -- pun intended -- after winning back-to-back road games against New York and Philadelphia after dropping 8-of-11 games.
They look like a different team with Chris Paul back after missing 12 games with a bruised right knee cap, and Griffin back after missing a couple of games with a left hamstring strain. On Monday night, the Clippers didn’t just beat the 76ers -- they clobbered them, 107-90, and once again showed how dangerous they can be when they’re healthy and have Paul running the show.
“To me, that was the most impressive performance that I’ve seen from a team against us this year,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said. “Speed, size, defense. They shot the ball. Their defense was tremendous. Their bigs were so active and quick. They could get out on top of the floor, trap the pick-and-rolls, get back. They were tremendous, so the credit goes to them. … When they’re healthy, they’re as good as anybody. They were incredible, so my hat’s off to them. They were tremendous. They played great.”
Collins has been around some talented teams during his career, but believes the Clippers may be one of the deepest teams he’s seen in the league when they are at full strength.
“When you have, imagine two Thad Youngs out there. One’s 7 feet tall, 260 pounds, the other one’s 6-9, 260. That’s the kind of athleticism they have,” Collins said. “You come in off the bench with Lamar Odom, he can get out and do the same thing. [Ryan] Hollins is an active big guy as well, so all four of their big guys can really get out and be very, very aggressive. They swarmed us, they turned us over, got us on our heels and just -- we never recovered.”
Paul’s statistics, as impressive as they are most nights, never really do him proper justice. Before his injury the Clippers were 32-9 at the midway point of the season -- tied for the best record in the league -- and without him, the Clippers went 6-6.
“Well, he controls the whole game,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “That's what the great players do. He was looking for his shot. He got us going early, but defensively, he kind of disrupts things as well. People forget he's a first-team all-defensive guy and leads the league in steals, usually. He causes havoc out there, and he disrupted them. We had an aggressive game plan going in, especially playing back-to-backs, and losing a couple of starters didn't help, but other guys stepped up.”
That’s right. After playing two games with a healthy roster for the first time this season, the Clippers lost Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups before Monday’s game in Philadelphia with sore lower backs. Both are listed as game-time decisions for Wednesday.
Even without them in the lineup, Paul was able to take over the game Monday night in Philadelphia and finished with 21 points, 11 assists and 5 steals as the Clippers jumped out to a 32-point lead. He was also able to spread the wealth as Griffin finished with 20 points and Jamal Crawford also had 20 points off the bench.
“I think he just knows the offense really well, he commands attention around the ball,” Griffin said. “On ball screens he's tough because I think a lot of times, guys are searching for DeAndre [Jordan} and I because they don't want to give up dunks, and he's knifing through and dropping it in.”