It's the part of the Clippers' game that often goes unnoticed, like the upholstery in a Ferrari.
Defense is easy to overlook when J.J. Redick swishes shots as if he's all alone in the gym or DeAndre Jordan jumps so high to dunk a lob that it seems like his head might graze one of the Boston Celtics' championship banners.
"Our offense is beautiful to watch," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said after Redick and Jordan wowed their teammates, not to mention the TD Garden crowd, Sunday during a 119-106 victory over the Celtics.
And yet, Rivers also is the first to acknowledge it is the Clippers' defense that has triggered their seven-game winning streak and a monthlong stretch of play that might be as good as any his team has logged since he arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 2013.
"I think our guys have finally connected the dots," Rivers said. "When we're good defensively, we're really good offensively. That's something we've been trying to get them to see all year. . . . They get it."
The Clippers discovered in the fourth quarter what can happen when their defense doesn't hum. Rivers had to rush his starters back into the game with a little over four minutes left after Boston had cut what had been a 35-point deficit to 14.
No worries. The defense helped the Clippers withstand a stretch in which Jordan missed eight of 10 free throws while being intentionally fouled, and they completed a three-game sweep of sub-.500 teams on their East Coast trip.
Redick scored 27 points, making 11 of 15 shots, five of six from three-point range.
"Redick's playing at a ridiculous level," Boston Coach Brad Stevens said of the shooting guard who has scored 15 points or more in 14 consecutive games.
The same could be said for the entire Clippers starting lineup, which reached double figures in scoring for a fourth consecutive game. Blake Griffin scored 21 points, Jordan had 15 points and 14 rebounds, Chris Paul 21 points and 10 assists.
Paul's most memorable pass came late in the second quarter on a flip over his shoulder to Jordan, who snatched the ball with his right hand and dunked it with rim-rattling force.
It was hardly an anomaly. The Clippers zipped the ball around like they were getting paid by the pass.
"We're passing up good shots for great shots," Paul said.
The Clippers (49-25), who face league-leading Golden State (60-13) on Tuesday, are only 11/2 games behind Houston for second place in the Western Conference, though the Rockets hold the tiebreaker by virtue of leading their division.
There's suddenly little doubt as to what the Clippers need to succeed.
"It has been our defense," Griffin said. "We hit shots but at the same time we got stops and then we get out in the open court and get easy buckets and then those easy buckets allow you to see more shots go down. It's a snowball effect, so one thing complements the other."