All you have to do is look at the Pacific Division standings to know that this has been an unexpected season for the Los Angeles Clippers. Perennial doormats in the division and in the Western Conference, the Clippers are currently leading the Pacific and sit second in the West. But even if you've grown accustomed to the Clippers winning games, you still might not have expected what happened Monday night, a dramatic 107-102 overtime victory over the Magic in Orlando.
The Clippers won by outrebounding and outshooting the team that leads the league in defensive rebounding percentage and three-pointers made. Then there's the fact that the Clippers had lost nine straight games against the Magic, their longest active losing streak against any opponent.
Of course, it has become apparent that you have to throw out the record books this Clippers season -- or at least divide the franchise history into the present day, and an earlier, dark ages-like period we'll call BCP3 (Before Chris Paul Era).
The Clippers have yet to lose this season when Paul scores at least 16 points, but in the first half of this one it looked as if that streak might be in jeopardy. Paul had nine in the first quarter, but the Magic built a lead as big as 15 behind the early dominance of Dwight Howard, who had 15 in the game's first 13 minutes. But a 14-2 Clippers run midway through the second quarter made it a game again, and an 11-2 run to open the second half put L.A. in the lead.
The Clippers built their lead as high as nine in the fourth quarter, but the Magic came back on the strength of Jameer Nelson (returning after a five game absence with concussion symptoms) and their outside shooting. Nelson had 10 points and three assists in the fourth, and a Ryan Anderson three with 2:45 left tied the game at 89. Orlando had a chance to take control with 45 seconds left in regulation, up three with the ball. But a Caron Butler steal led to a Blake Griffin fast break and a smart foul from Nelson. Griffin made one of two to tie the game, and Nelson's last second jumper wouldn't fall, sending the game to overtime.
Back to back three-pointers by Nelson and J.J. Redick gave Orlando a four point lead, their largest since the start of the second half, a couple minutes into the overtime, but Paul was far from finished. He assisted on a Butler jump shot to cut the deficit in half. Seconds later, he forced a steal and assisted on a Butler three that gave the Clippers the lead. On the Clippers' next possession, he lofted a baseline jumper high over Howard with the shot clock winding down, giving L.A. a three-point lead. After a Jason Richardson dunk, the Clippers closed the door with some clutch rebounding, grabbing two offensive boards on the next possession, using over a minute of the game clock in the process. The Magic were forced to foul to get the ball back, the Clippers made their free throws, Orlando missed their three-pointers, and the game was over.
Back to those unexpected statistics. The Clippers made 13 three-pointers (out of 31) to Orlando's 11 (out of 30). It was the fourth time in their last six games that the Clippers have made 11 or more three-pointers, and not surprisingly they've won all four. The Clippers outrebounded the Magic 46 to 37; L.A. began the season as one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, but the addition of Reggie Evans (who had eight boards Monday night) has made a big difference, and the impending addition of Kenyon Martin should help even more. Finally, the Clippers (the second worst free throw shooting team in the league ahead of only the Magic) made 22 of 25 free throws Monday night, a season-high 88 percent. It goes without saying that they don't win an overtime game without making that high percentage. The big difference was Griffin, who made six of seven (the potential game-winner in the final seconds of regulation was his only miss) after adding three dribbles to his foul line routine at the behest of coach Vinny Del Negro. That's good coaching.
Paul finished the game with 29 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists, running L.A.'s record to 10-0 when he scores at least 16. He scored 13 in the fourth quarter and overtime, or as he likes to call it, Winning Time. Griffin finished with 18 and 10 rebounds, and Chauncey Billups added 18, with all five of his field goals coming from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for the Clippers, the win may prove costly as Billups left in the fourth quarter with what was described as a left Achilles injury. The severity of the injury is not known at this time, and will be evaluated when the team arrives in Cleveland Tuesday, but it didn't look good as Billups was being helped to the locker room.
For Orlando, Howard finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds, but was limited to just two points and two shots after the third quarter. He did manage to foul both DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans out of the game. Jason Richardson helped out with 20 and Nelson finished with 15 and 12 assists.
The win is the Clippers' fourth straight on the road, and sixth of seven overall. They improve to 15-7 on the season while the Magic fall to 15-10.