Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
There are six teams in the NBA that have defeated both the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat this season. The Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers all rose to the occasion against two of the best teams in the league. Four of those teams are currently in the top eight in their respective conferences and the Grizzlies are sitting right on the edge of the playoff picture in the West.
The sixth and most recent addition to that list is a team that you probably wouldn’t guess if you were given 10 cracks at it. The Los Angeles Clippers, thanks to a 99-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers yesterday afternoon, became the sixth team to take down the defending champs and the Heat this season. The Clippers are playing some of their best basketball in recent memory right now and their hot streak culminated with their victory yesterday against the cross hall rivals. Earlier in the week, the Clippers took down the Heat with a six point victory and back in December they picked up impressive wins over both the Spurs and Bulls (in their first game against the Lakers, they lost by just one point on a Derek Fisher buzzer beater).
Led by a strong second half performance from their stud Blake Griffin, the Clippers came back from a few small deficits to tie the game before finally taking the lead for good against the Lakers in the final five minutes of the game. Eric Gordon was the benefactor of great Clippers ball movement, which is probably the most impressive part of the Clippers’ recent surge. Guys like Baron Davis, Ryan Gomes and Eric Bledsoe are making the extra pass and its paying off with extremely easy looks for the Clips two best players.
More on the Clippers’ victory over the Lakers after the break…
Griffin was having his worst game of the season f0r two and a half quarters in this game. Anytime he would go to the rim, Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol was there to challenge or swat his shot away. Defensively, he was getting scored on and was on the wrong end of the whistle more than a few times. And for the first time this season, Griffin look frustrated. He was clearly losing a bit of confidence in himself during the third quarter of this game. He was hesitant to shoot the mid-range jumper, which is a shot he is capable of hitting and he was trying too hard to just overpower the Laker bigs, who were clearly not going to let him get anything easy at the rim.
Luckily for the Clippers, a pair of free throws seemed to get Griffin going and then the Clippers team as a whole started to follow suit. In the fourth, Griffin was unstoppable when he got the ball in the lowpost – and, by the way, the Clipper guards do such a great job of feeding him the ball when he is in positions to score – and the Lakers’ bigs started giving him too much space before the catch. Once Griffin got a couple of easy baskets downlow, the ball started to swing around the perimeter and twice in a row the result of excellent ball movement was an Eric Gordon three-pointer that swished right through the net.
The most surprising thing about this win for the Clippers was the way their defense played. The Lakers’ offense ranks fifth in the league in offensive efficiency on the year, scoring 108.1 points per 100 possessions. Yesterday, the Clippers, who give up the 23rd most points per 100 possessions in the NBA at 106.2, held the Lakers to 102 points per 100 possessions.
Some of that success came thanks to some terrible decisions by Derek Fisher, who was one of eight from the field on the game with two of those misses coming on two pull-up jumpers in transition, but another big reason the Clippers defense performed so well was because of their use of the zone defense. Over the past year or so, the Lakers have had their share of trouble with the zone (most famously against the Suns in the Western Conference Finals last season) and that continued today. The Clippers weren’t exactly playing great within the zone, but the style of play the zone can tempt other teams to play is an offense killer. That happened to the Lakers, as Ron Artest was suckered into taking too many long jumpers.
Griffin finished the game with 18 points and 15 rebounds, which is a truly remarkable line when you consider that he had two points and five rebounds at the half. His struggles are still shown in his seven-of-20 line from the field but he made his shots when they counted. DeAndre Jordan, who I will have more on in the coming days, added 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and two blocks while back-up big man Ike Diogu grabbed himself 11 boards (six offensive) to help lead the Clippers to a 50-45 rebounding edge.
This was the first game in which Blake failed to reach the marks of 20 points and 10 rebounds in 14 games though it was clear that he wanted to get there. With just a tad over five seconds left in the game, Griffin needlessly went for an offensive rebound on a missed free throw, leading to a skirmish between he and Lamar Odom. Baron Davis and Ron Artest also got involved and all four players ended up getting ejected.
While Griffin certainly had some big plays, Eric Gordon made even bigger one’s. His two fourth quarter three’s helped get the Clippers the lead and his strip of Kobe Bryant with two minutes led to a fastbreak dunk for himself that put the Clippers up by seven. Gordon finished with a game high 30 points on efficient 13-of-20 shooting (four-of-seven from three) while dishing out six assists and piling up four steals. Gordon had his troubles with Kobe on the defensive end – Bryant went for 27 on seven-of-10 shooting inside the arc, which included his normal array of ridiculous jumpers – but his steal late could be viewed as the game winning play and he certainly got Bryant back on the other end.
The Clippers are still six games behind Portland for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with the Warriors, Rockets, Suns and Grizzlies all ahead of them by at least two games (If only they hadn’t started the season 1-13), but there is absolutely no denying that they are playing playoff level basketball right now. They may not be able to keep up their stellar play (production from Ike Diogu is likely unreliable) but over the past week they have taken down two of the five best teams in the NBA and at least for a day, they’re the best Los Angeles had to offer.