There would be multiple broken objects in my home if the Clippers had lost today. In fact, I would have been gravely concerned if it had been remotely close. Luckily, it wasn’t. Note to readers who had better things to do than watch a Clippers-Raptors game at 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon (congrats on having a substantially better life than me): the final score is misleading, as the Clips held a comfortable 15-20 point lead for most of the second half. Even without Chris Paul, the talent disparity between these two team is vast. Toronto’s starting lineup today consisted of…avert your eyes you are squeamish…Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, and James Johnson. Cue the “Could Duke beat the Raptors?” jokes. The biggest scoring threat in that starting lineup is Compton’s own DeMar DeRozan (A.K.A. “DeDe”), who is averaging 14.8 points per game with a Billupsian field goal percentage of 39.5%. To be fair to the Raptors, their best offensive player, Andrea Bargnani, sat out his sixth consecutive game with a calf injury.
True to form, the Raptors starters combined for 33 points on 9-40 shooting. DeDe lead the charge, scoring 15 points on 4-19 shooting. Did the Clippers play great defense? I don’t know. Honestly, I was flipping back and forth between the Clips game and the Pats-Ravens game, with a heavy bias toward the latter during the second half. So don’t expect any earth-shattering insights from me in this recap (I know – a drastic deviation from the norm).
It is games like this one that highlight the evolving culture and expectations surrounding the Clippers. In the past few years, I would never have taken a game for granted. Even a home game against an ailing Raptors squad was not a sure thing. ‘Sure, if we play well, we’ll win,’ was my mindset. But there was always the chance that we would come out flat and play down to the level of the competition. With this team, we don’t have to worry about that (at least not at home). First of all, we’re just too talented to lose games against the Torontoes (Torontos?) of the league. Second, and more importantly, the Clippers will be held accountable this year. In years past, a loss in a game like this would have drawn boos from the 8,000 fans in attendance and perhaps a “Clips Let One Slip Away Against Raptors” headline from Lisa Dillman in the back pages of the LA Times sports section. Now? Something along the lines of “Reeling Clips Blow Another” would have graced ESPN’s NBA front page.
Another factor working to the Clippers’ advantage in games like this is their team chemistry. They seem to genuinely like and enjoy playing with each other. Whereas previous Clippers teams might have sleepwalked through this game, this team was engaged and energetic. Blake and DeAndre were trying to outdo one another in a dunkfest (DJ won handily). When Mo Williams caught fire in the 4th quarter, the bench guys were freaking out like it was the last minute of a playoff game. Reggie Evans was so hyped up that he damn near broke Mo’s hand in a late-game high-five.
Speaking of Reggie, he has already become a fan favorite, as I predicted on the day they signed him. I also correctly predicted that “Reg-gie!” chants would regularly ring out at Staples. I’m not sure the chant was warranted today (1 point, 3 rebounds, 4 fouls in 14 minutes), but I’m not going to object.
The big story today, other than the Raptors being terrible, was DeAndre Jordan. He put up 16 points and 16 rebounds. His reverse alley-oop in the third quarter was one of the best dunks I’ve seen all year (skip to 0:35 mark: http://youtu.be/3CLGP-Wvd1E); if Blake had done it, it would already be in a Kia commercial. DJ has now posted big scoring numbers in two out of the last three games (19 points against Dallas). Is this something we should get accustomed to? No. Chalk this one up to the matchup. The Raptors’ tallest starter is Ed Davis, generously listed at 6’10″. Matched up against the likes of Davis, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray (vertical leap: approximately 0.4 cm), and Jamaal Magloire (age: approximately 47), DJ was simply able to take the elevator up to an extra floor tonight. It didn’t hurt that the Raptors’ guards couldn’t contain Billups and Mo to save their lives, forcing the bigs to rotate off of DJ.
Mo continued his torrid shooting tonight, posting 26 points on just 15 field goal attempts. Since returning from his foot injury, he has scored 25+ points in three consecutive games. He is simply in the zone right now. Even his misses today went deep in the well before bouncing out. Much was made of his excellent conditioning heading into the season, as he spent the offseason gearing up to be the starter on what he guaranteed was a playoff team. Of course, the Paul and Billups acquisitions relegated Mo to the bench, and he was averaging just north of 20 minutes per game until CP3 got hurt. It will be interesting to see how Vinny manages Mo’s minutes when Paul returns. He’s playing on an entirely different level than Chauncey Billups, and if that trend continues, Vinny may have to consider making Mo our crunch-time shooting guard.
Speaking of Mr.
Every Big Shot, I declared after Friday’s game that he ”is strictly a shooting guard at this point.” In light of tonight’s game, that comment might have been premature. Shooting guards, after all, tend to be able to shoot. Chauncey was 1-9 from the field, dropping his FG% to 34.4%. To his credit, his true shooting percentage is a very respectable 55.2% because of his high 3P% and FT%. But more interestingly, Chauncey dished out a whopping 14 assists today. That’s his highest assist total since December 2, 2008 (coincidentally, also a 14-assist game against Toronto). It’s nice to see that Chauncey is still capable of passing once in a while.
Next up is the Lakers on Wednesday, in what promises to be a hotly contested battle.