The Clippers will return to the NBA portion of their schedule Tuesday at Staples Center against Golden State after a three-game trip in which they manhandled sub-.500 teams. The Clippers’ 119-106 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Sunday at TD Garden represented their seventh consecutive victory. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers went 7-0 on what some might call a “lucky seven” stretch. It was a soft pocket of the schedule that could have prompted the Clippers to take it a little too easy. They didn’t, logging victories over Charlotte, Sacramento, Washington, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Boston to improve to 49-25. Matching last season’s franchise-record 57 victories remains in play with eight games left, though it seems unlikely considering that games against Golden State, Portland and Memphis remain on the schedule, not to mention the possibility that Clippers Coach Doc Rivers will rest his starters for a game or two.
2. The Clippers’ ball movement has become very Spurs-ian. Point guard Chris Paul said the Clippers are passing up good shots for great ones, and he isn’t exaggerating in the slightest. Most of the Clippers’ looks have been good ones in recent weeks, the team zipping the ball around with a sense of purpose. Shooting guard J.J. Redick has also quickly countered every defensive adjustment teams have made to sustain his recent hot stretch of scoring 15 or more points in 14 consecutive games. “Tonight, they were trying not to let him go right,” Rivers said of Redick, who scored a team-high 27 points against the Celtics. “So, he just started going left, making shots. It’s just great to watch.”
3. The second unit’s lull nearly cost the Clippers. It looked like another game when Rivers would be able to rest his top three starters for the entire fourth quarter. Then the Clippers reserves squandered most of a 35-point lead, allowing the Celtics to close within 14 before Rivers had to re-insert his starters with a little more than four minutes left. “The second unit played like … ” Clippers forward Glen Davis said, using an expletive. Rivers said the letdown was caused by the reserves’ inattention to defense. “I thought what really happened was our second unit came in and thought they were just going to keep scoring,” Rivers said, “and they didn’t realize the reason they scored in the first half is they kept getting stops.”
4. So, about those seedings in the Western Conference. Things are so jammed that only three games separate the teams seeded second through sixth, meaning the standings and potential first-round playoff matchups are changing on a daily basis. If the playoffs were to start Monday, the Clippers would have the No. 5 seeding but would hold homecourt advantage over No. 4-seeded Portland because they have a better record than the Trail Blazers, who can finish no lower than fourth by virtue of leading the Northwest Division. Clippers forward Blake Griffin said it was largely an exercise in futility to focus on the standings. “It’s so close and everything’s moving around that it’s kind of out of our control,” Griffin said.
5. The Golden State game on Tuesday could show whether the Clippers’ surge should scare the rest of the conference. Beating the likes of the Celtics, Knicks and 76ers in convincing fashion is one thing. But can the Clippers replicate that kind of play against the team with the best record in the NBA? “You’ve got to do it against the best teams,” Griffin said. “It’s about us, about how we play, so it would mean something, but this next game or the next two games don’t make or break our season.” The Clippers will play the Warriors after having taken a cross-country flight amid a portion of their schedule that includes eight consecutive games in different cities. Not that the Clippers expect any preferential treatment. “Because we’re flying back, they’re not going to let us start off with eight points or nothing like that,” Paul said, “so it’s kind of irrelevant. It doesn’t matter.”