When the Los Angeles Clippers traded for Chris Paul in December, everyone knew that pairing him with Blake Griffin in Lob City would be exciting. Some people even realized that the team could be very good. But did anyone suspect that they would be this good, this soon?
In three games over the course of four nights, the Clippers have won in Denver (second best record in the West and 7-2 at home at the time), against Oklahoma City (best in the West), and Wednesday night in Utah against the Jazz (fifth in the West, 10-3 at home). The win over the Jazz must be particularly sweet for the Clippers, as they had lost 16 straight in Utah going back to 2003, and had won there only once since 1989 -- the year of Blake Griffin's birth.
Obviously, this is a different Clippers team than the ones that have compiled such a record of futility in Salt Lake City, and one big difference-maker is Paul. He had a season-high 34 points, including 12 in the pivotal fourth quarter, to go along with 11 assists and three steals. He was absolutely unstoppable in the fourth, making 5 of 7 shots and scoring every big bucket for the Clippers.
Two weeks ago, the Clippers were blown out in the same building, in a game Paul missed with a strained hamstring. In that meeting, the Clippers had no energy from the opening tip, but it was clear this one would be a different story when Griffin dunked a Paul lob on the first play, seven seconds in. In fact, the Clippers first four baskets were dunks, three of them by Griffin, three of them via lobs, all assisted by Paul. Lob City indeed.
But the Jazz are a quality team, especially at home, and they were busy scoring themselves. Al Jefferson had a huge first half, scoring 18 points on 9 of 11 shooting, most of them from his seemingly automatic jump hook (which at times looks more like a one-handed jump shot). Utah also forced eight first half turnovers and generated easy baskets off of them. At halftime, with the Jazz shooting a sizzling 61 percent, Utah led by two.
The second half was a constant struggle. The Clippers scored the first six points of the half to take a four point lead, but neither team led by more than five the entire half. How many times have you watched a half that was within two possessions the entire time? Utah had the ball down two with 90 seconds left when Paul Millsap was called for an offensive foul for lowering his shoulder into Griffin, much to the dismay of the home crowd. It was a tough call, and one that will often be ignored in that situation, but not necessarily the wrong call. Paul made a jump shot on the ensuing Clippers possession, and although Utah made some threes in the final minute to make things interesting, L.A. was 9 for 9 from the line in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
This victory by the Clippers may be more impressive than the ones over the Nuggets and Thunder, because things did not come easily. L.A. has been red hot from long-range, and had made 14 three-pointers against Denver and 13 against Oklahoma City. Wednesday night in Utah, they were 5-22 from deep. With Chauncey Billups struggling (1 for 8 missing all five of his three-pointers), Mo Williams slightly cooler than he has been (he managed to score 19 but was just 6 for 18 from the field) and Caron Butler sitting out with a sore back, it was up to Paul and Griffin to grind out a win. Griffin finished the game with 31 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. He and Paul combined to score 65 of L.A.'s 107. And what may be most frightening for the rest of the league, they are just now beginning to develop some real rapport on the pick and roll.
Jefferson cooled off some in the second half, but still finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Millsap, who has been playing at an All-Star level all season, had a relatively quiet 14 points and 7 boards. C.J. Miles and Derrick Favors came off the bench to score 16 and 14 respectively.
With the win, the Clippers move to 13-6 on the season. The Jazz are now 12-8.