Here are five things we learned from their 98-86 win over the Miami Heat on Sunday:
1. The defense has tightened considerably since the Clippers allowed an average of 110.5 points during their year-ending, six-game losing streak. They’ve held opponents to an average of 96.5 points in the last four games, with Coach Doc Rivers crediting a return to a simpler approach — namely, less switching — as the Clippers learned to adjust without injured power forward Blake Griffin.
“We got away from ourselves, honestly,” Rivers said. “I think we started to get too smart, and we went back to our basic defense. One of the things I instructed Brendan [O’Connor, assistant coach] is, we’re not going to trick it up anymore. When we lost Blake we started trying to be too clever.
“I always go back to the great Don Shula. He used to say, ‘The more you think, the less you play hard because you’re thinking.’ We were switching things. Heck, I didn’t even know what we were doing at times, so really, it was confusing me.
“We were doing so much stuff defensively … so we simplified things, and everybody is playing at the same pace. They know exactly what we’re doing. It allows less thought, more athleticism, and I think that’s been really good for us.”
2. The Clippers, who vowed to reduce their technical fouls by easing their hostility toward officials and opponents, did a much better job than the Heat of controlling their emotions on Sunday.
When Redick was elbowed in the back of the head — unintentionally — by Miami’s Dion Waiters in the third quarter, he did not overreact, though tempers did flare for a bit. Waiters was slapped with a Flagrant II foul and ejected.
After last Wednesday’s game against Memphis, Austin Rivers said, with a touch of sarcasm, that he was “never the type” to incur technical fouls “until I started playing with these guys.” Sitting next to Rivers at the time was center DeAndre Jordan, who is tied for the league lead with nine technicals.
The two shared a laugh, but Jordan got some payback on Sunday. Rivers missed the game because of flu-like symptoms and wasn’t even in Staples Center when Jordan closed his post-game media session by saying, “We didn’t get any techs today, did we? It’s because Austin wasn’t here.”
3. Jamal Crawford sure is streaky. After averaging 24 points in three games from Dec. 23 to 26, the veteran guard, slowed by a minor right-knee injury, scored 12 points and made five of 29 shots (17.2%) in a year-ending, three-game trip to New Orleans, Houston and Oklahoma City.
Crawford opened 2017 with an 18-point game against Phoenix and a 22-point effort against Memphis, but he scored nine points on four of 13 shooting at Sacramento on Friday night and made only one of 12 shots for two points against the Heat on Sunday.
Reserve forwards Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass picked up the slack, Speights scoring a season-high 19 points and Bass adding 12.
“We struggled finding points tonight,” Doc Rivers said. “So that was big for us.”
4. Doc Rivers has done a good job of rationing Paul’s playing time while the star point guard recovers from a left-hamstring injury, which sidelined him for seven of eight games before Friday night. Paul has been playing in bursts of five to seven minutes and then given time to rest and recover.
“I felt a lot better,” Paul said after Sunday’s game. “It’s been really cool the way Doc’s been playing it, maybe five, six hard minutes, come out a little bit, come back. It gives me more time to keep getting it stronger, and I felt great today.”
5. It never hurts to have good manners. In the first quarter Sunday, Redick’s defensive help on Miami center Hassan Whiteside, who was being guarded by Jordan, caused a bad pass that went out of bounds.
“We made DeAndre say thank-you to J.J. as the game was going on,” Doc Rivers said, “because D.J. helps a lot, and he goes crazy if he doesn’t get help.”
Said Jordan: “Doc said, ‘J.J. was there, so tell him thank-you.’ He was like, ‘Tell him!’ And I was like, ‘J.J., thank-you,’ and I blew him a kiss.”