After a resounding victory in Cleveland on Thursday night against last year’s Champions, the Los Angeles Clippers sent a message to the NBA world; they meant business.
The L.A. Clippers: The Silent Contenders
Exploding to an emphatic early 16-6 start thus far this NBA season, the Clippers have signalled their intent to achieve success, and ultimately not fall at the first hurdle like last year.
With the season only 22 games old, they already seemingly look poised to better last year’s horrific playoff crumble. And with the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan firing on all cylinders, can anyone stop them?
But just how have the Clippers elevated their game to reach this level of near indestructibility, when last year their bottle was tested and subsequently smashed into smithereens when the going got tough?
Business as Usual
The Los Angeles Clippers have gone about their business rather astutely for the first quarter of this season. The majority of the limelight has been firmly focused on Kevin Durant and co. in Golden State, and along with the Clippers Californian counterpart’s (the Lakers) revival in full flow, this has cast the perfect shadow for the Clips to sneak in to.
It is no secret that the Western Conference boasts some of the most extravagant talents, chocked to the heaving brim with outstanding quality, so a team needs to be pretty good in order to win games, let alone sit third in the Conference. The Clips have achieved just this, and with a winning percentage of 72.7%, they also flaunt the third best record in the entire league.
And if you thought that statistic was impressive, it gets a great deal better.
Exploiting Their Strengths
The Clips are a team adept at getting buckets in abundance. The stats prove this. In the league standings, they sit 6th in average points per game with 108.7, as well as 5th in success rate from the field (46.4%) and 6th in 3PM% (37.4%).
But this doesn’t mean they’re a franchise that specialises in just plainly out-scoring their opponents. The game-plan Doc Rivers has instilled is far more intricate than that.
They’ve undergone a transformation over the off-season, turning them into a solid defensive unit as well as an offensive one. They limit their opponents to score a measly 99.1 points per game on average, as well as forcing them to shoot 43.5% from the field, defensive statistics that see them occupy the 8th and 6th places out of the entire league, respectively. That latter of the two statistics makes for interesting reading, it proves that they’re a compact unit, and that no open shots are gifted to their opponents too often – everything is contested. The only team higher seeded than the Clippers who sit above them in this list are the Warriors (4th). The Spurs and the Cavaliers aren’t even close (19th and 18th respectively).
Chris Paul has undoubtedly acted as the pivot in this success. His classy, efficient playmaking ability intertwined with his copious amounts of experience have led the Clips to some solid victories thus far this season, none more remarkable than the 94-113 road whitewash of the Cavs, where he chalked up 16 points and 9 rebounds.
However, there have been some unlikely performers this year raising an eyebrow or two. Blake Griffin finished Sunday night’s loss against the Pacers with 24 points to go with 16 rebounds to record his eleventh double-double of the season. While his success may not be all that surprising, it’s the scale on which Griffin is succeeding is what’s intriguing; he’s establishing himself as one of the best passing power forwards in the league, as well as leading his team in scoring averages.
Paul’s backcourt companion, J.J. Redick is also starting to turn some heads with his extreme sharpshooting ability from behind the arc, hitting just shy of half his shots he takes from downtown. Bar Brandon Bass and Alan Anderson, who have amassed a combined average of 16.1 minutes over the duration of 16 games, Redick has the best 3PM% on the team, as well as one of the league’s best, too.
It seems rather absurd to place the Clippers alongside teams such as the Cavaliers and the Warriors in the contenders bracket, but with each game, and with each victory, this fantasy is becoming closer to reality.
I know what you’re thinking; how can a franchise that have never made it past the second round of the playoffs all of a sudden become legitimate contenders? Won’t they just choke like years prior?
The difference is that the players have been allowed suitable time to gel and work out the kinks, and it’s starting to pay dividends. Other teams are beginning to notice this change too, and while they may have fallen off the electric pace they set earlier in the season, they’re still one of the last teams anyone wants to face. Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey even went one step further, claiming that the Clippers are “the best team in the league.”
The answers to the aforementioned questions would be far from credible this early on in the season, but light will most definitely be shed on this topic come March-time. But for now it’s safe to say, the LA Clippers aren’t messing around. Watch this space.
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES – APRIL 03: Chris Paul (3) and DeAndre Jordan (6) of LA Clippers are in action during an NBA game between Los Angeles Clippers vs Washington Wizards at Staples Center, Los Angeles , CA, USA on April 03, 2016. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)