The Los Angeles Clippers won again and it was less than convincing. They held on to beat the Detroit Pistons, 105-103, in overtime despite a brutal fourth quarter. It's a common occurrence for this year's Clippers -- they struggle to play a complete game and let a team stick around for longer than they should, but still eek out a win. The Clippers are 9-3 in their last 12 games and have climbed to 15-10, the fourth-best record in the West.
Blake Griffin had 34 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Clippers, but it was the shooting hand of J.J. Redick that made the difference against the Pistons. Redick had 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 4-of-8 from deep.
Reggie Jackson had 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Pistons outscored the Clippers by 10 in the final quarter, but they weren't able to hold on down the stretch after an impressive comeback.
The Clippers led by nine at the half and by as many as 13. The lead hovered around 10 and the Clippers looked like they would coast to a win, but they didn't come to play in the fourth quarter.
The Pistons dominated that frame. They played with more energy and purpose. Jackson was hitting threes, Andre Drummond and Aron Baynes were controlling the paint and the defense was firing on all cylinders. The Clippers, meanwhile, had little urgency and ran too much isolation and two-man game on offense. And the Pistons should have taken advantage.
They would have if it weren't for a clutch Redick three on a beautiful play set up by Griffin in the post.
The Clippers weren't great in overtime, either. Redick hit a three and Griffin was active -- he made or assisted on every point the Clippers scored in overtime -- but they were able to win because of a blown defensive play by Drummond.
Bad time to leave Jamal Crawford COMPLETELY OPEN pic.twitter.com/20N4aeeZU8— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) December 15, 2015
The Pistons had multiple chances to send the game to another overtime when Jackson missed a free throw with nine seconds remaining. The Pistons grabbed five offensive rebounds and missed four game-tying attempts. It was a fitting ending for the Clippers, who sneaked by despite giving the Pistons chance after chance.
The Clippers do, however, keep getting the job done -- and it's thanks to the defense. During the Clippers' 6-7 start, they had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 103.9 and a defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) of 104.3. In the 12 games since, the offensive rating has remained constant at 103.5, but the defensive rating has dropped significantly to an impressive 97.2. That number would rank the Clippers fifth best in the NBA if they had kept it up the entire season.
But there's one more thing to consider: the Clippers' schedule has been favorable. Of the teams they've beaten in this 9-3 stretch, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the best offensive rating at 101.7, which is 15th-best in the league.
The Clippers aren't taking down world beaters. Even though they're winning ball games, there's still work to be done in LA.
But at least they're winning.
3 other things we learned
Never forget about the San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Utah Jazz, 118-81. They led by as many as 46 points. The game was never in question, which is a recurring theme for the Spurs as of late. They're now 21-5 overall and 12-2 in their last 14 games. If it wasn't for the 24-1 Golden State Warriors, these Spurs would be the story of the early NBA season. And they should be. They've won their last three games by an average of 28 points. They are simply dominating. They've outscored their opponents this season by 342 points. That's more than the 327 by the Warriors (via ESPN Stats and Info). Against the Jazz Monday, they took away their will to play:
Okay, Spurs are in full-on jerk mode now. pic.twitter.com/v6Rbofu6zt— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 15, 2015
Kawhi Leonard had 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds to continue his stellar season. He's not just a defensive stopper anymore, he's an offensive power, too. One thing is clear: the Spurs are playing great basketball. The rest of the NBA better watch out.
It's time to panic in Atlanta.
After a 7-1 start to the season, the Atlanta Hawks are struggling. Monday's game against the Miami Heat seemed like a perfect opportunity to get out of a rut. They had lost 10 of 16 games and were coming off a humiliating 103-78 defeat to the Spurs. But they were no match for the Heat, who had lost three of four heading into the matchup against the Hawks. Kent Bazemore had 28 points and five rebounds for the Hawks, but last year's All-Stars Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver struggled with seven and five points, respectively. No one player is playing particularly poorly and Bazemore has been serviceable for the Hawks after they lost DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors in the offseason, but continued mediocrity isn't going to do it. The Hawks need to figure something out, and fast.
The Houston Rockets' roller-coaster of a season has no rhyme or reason.
The Rockets lost to the Denver Nuggets, 114-108, to continue their inconsistent season. There are still more questions than answers when it comes to Houston. The game was a microcosm of their season. The Nuggets outscored the Rockets by 14 in the first quarter, then Houston outscored the Nuggets by 18 in the second. The Nuggets stormed back to win the third quarter by 10 and then held off the Rockets despite a James Harden-led 18-4 run in the final minutes. The Rockets are 7-3 in their last 10, so this one loss isn't something to harp on. But it is a recurring theme for the Rockets -- that they don't play hard. They'll need to remedy that and find some consistency if they want to contend.
Play of the night
Will Barton looks like he jumped off a trampoline for this dunk over Donatas Motiejunas. Good grief that is an emphatic dunk.
5 fun things
Nuggets 114, Rockets 108 (Denver Stiffs recap | The Dream Shake recap)