There is one argument for the Clippers as championship contenders that I’ve liked for the past few months. I can’t even take credit for it. On an NBA After Dark podcast sometime early in the year, we were talking about this disappointing Los Angeles season, and Chris Ryan argued that maybe this was for the better. Instead of peaking during the regular season, like they have for the past few years, this Clippers team would play possum for a few months and then come together right at the end. A lot like Doc Rivers’s old Celtics teams.
Three weeks ago, that argument looked like it might be irrelevant.
Before a nationally televised game with OKC, the Clippers announced that Blake Griffin had a staph infection in his elbow, and that he’d be gone for at least three weeks. Then they went out and got destroyed by the Thunder, and a “disappointing” season felt like it was flirting with disaster. This is what their schedule for the first three weeks without Griffin looked like:
- @ Dallas
- vs. Houston
- vs. San Antonio
- vs. Sacramento
- vs. Memphis
- @ Houston
- @ Memphis
- @ Chicago
This was a problem. The Clippers needed a solution.
[CUE MANNIE FRESH.]
[CUE CHILDREN AND BABIES.]
They found a solution.
DeAndre Jordan has transformed into a New Age Dennis Rodman, but with dunks instead of tattoos.
On Sunday, he held Pau Gasol to 2-of-13 from the field for four points, while grabbing 26 fucking rebounds against a Bulls front line that’s supposed to be that team’s strength. He averaged 16.0 points and 17.2 boards in February, shooting 68.8 percent from the field. He still can’t hit free throws, but when he plays like this, it’s a lot harder to care.
“You look at the stat sheet and you don’t see how many times Aaron Brooks didn’t drive because ‘DJ’ was there,” said Chris Paul after the win over the Bulls yesterday. “How many shots guys went up and then passed it (instead). That doesn’t show up.
“He’s unbelievable,” Paul added. “He really is. And I’m glad guys are starting to take notice because he deserves the credit everybody’s giving him right now.”
He is scoring inside, grabbing every rebound in sight, and anchoring a defense that’s much better than it should be when you look at the rest of the roster. The Clippers are 6-2 since that OKC loss. DeAndre Jordan is saving the Clippers’ season.
Paul is helping, obviously. The past few weeks have given everyone an opportunity to appreciate how incredible he can be. In the middle of some ugly losses and his near-constant bitching to the refs, it’s sometimes easy to forget.
We needed the past few weeks. He’s had double-digit assists in all but one game without Griffin, and he averaged 19.1 points and 11.5 assists in February. The Clippers offense has survived just fine without its biggest weapon. Instead of feeding Griffin, Paul is getting more role players into a rhythm, and everyone’s stepping up to help score. Especially Paul. Against Chicago on Sunday, he had 28 and 12, including a dagger down the stretch to put the game away for good.
It’s all pretty great. Despite every criticism Paul faces (he’s never won anything that matters, his domineering personality wears thin on his teammates, his ball dominance hurts the Clippers at the end of close games), there’s still nothing better than watching him turn defenses inside out. Now Griffin is sidelined and the CP3 Experience is center stage.
Look at this. It’s one-on-four and everyone is helpless:
It’s too early to say what any of this means. Maybe Jordan is better off without Griffin clogging the lane on offense, and good enough on the other end to anchor the defense by himself. Maybe Paul is best when the ball is in his hands instead of watching Griffin operate as some kind of swingman playmaker.
Or watching these guys win shorthanded could just be a reminder of how much talent the Clippers have always had, and why the ugly losses and thin bench won’t make them any less terrifying when the playoffs start. Maybe when Griffin is healthy they’ll peak like those old Rivers teams, all because Jordan and Paul kept them alive for this month.
The only thing we know for sure is that all of this will be forgotten if the Clippers fall apart in May again. But maybe that’s even more reason to appreciate what’s happening now.
[CUE THE NEW ANNOUNCER.]
[RALPH LAWLER IS FIRED.]
[AT LEAST UNTIL BLAKE GETS BACK.]