It won't be clear for at least a few days, possibly much longer, but the Clippers may have secured a potentially transformative 103-101 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night at Staples Center after trailing by 12 points early in the fourth quarter and by 10 points with 5 1/2 minutes left in the game. A loss would have sent the Clippers back to .500 and led to what felt like a much longer flight to Minneapolis to start a five-game trip. Instead, the Clippers (11-9) may have felt like they were floating to the Midwest after their big comeback. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers won a game they trailed heading into the fourth quarter for the first time this season. It was a wild, wild finish for the Clippers, who erased a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter mostly by getting it done on defense against the NBA's second-youngest team. They held the Magic scoreless for 3 minutes, 34 seconds while going on a 13-0 run that stretched into the game's final two minutes. "What was great about it was we just got stops down the stretch," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. "That's really what did it for us. We hit shots too, but we really buckled down and got stops."
2. Wesley Johnson gave the Clippers the breakthrough performance they needed with Chris Paul and J.J. Redick sidelined by injuries. Johnson scored 21 points off the bench on six-for-12 shooting—all from three-point range—but it was his active hands that came up with two steals and a block that were perhaps even more meaningful. "It's really just trying to get my hands on a lot of stuff," said Johnson, who also had a few big deflections. Johnson made the most of the directive he received from Coach Doc Rivers going into a timeout. "I said, 'You've got the easiest job here. Like, when we throw it, shoot it.' " Johnson complied, earning a rare trip to the postgame podium as one of the game's top players.
3. Jamal Crawford may have shot his way out of a slump. The Clippers shooting guard scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and made more than half his shots for the first time since the second game of the season. He finished making 10 of 19 shots, including six of nine from three-point range. Crawford said he had noticed two problems with his shots in recent days: He was taking too many off-balance shots and thinking too much about his season-long slump, leading to his funk. Assistant coach Sam Cassell informed Crawford of the glaring discrepancy between his accuracy when shooting off-balance versus exhibiting proper form. The percentages apparently resonated. "You could see him make a concerted effort," Rivers said of Crawford's willingness to improve his form. Crawford was executing "the two-foot jump stop, the Jerry West jump shot—I always call it that—instead of floating and flying," Rivers said. "He just took a lot of solid shots tonight and I thought that was great for him." Crawford also stopped overthinking, which had robbed him of his usual fearlessness. "My teammates and coaches hate when I play with hesitation," Crawford said, "because that way you're kind of blocking your own shot."
4. Of course, there was a reason the Clippers needed that big comeback. They surrendered 15 offensive rebounds leading to 22 second-chance points and struggled to defend in the paint, where the Magic scored 52 points. "It was a good win," Griffin said, "but we just made a lot of mistakes, so yes, it's a good win, but there's things that we need to clean up and there's things we shouldn't have done that allowed that lead to balloon like that." Rivers said his team's early offensive woes led to problems on the defensive end before their late surge. "A lot of guys were pressing offensively and it wasn't going well and it took away from their defense," Rivers said. "And you get down and you stop defending."
5. It's finally time to hit the road. The Clippers embarked Sunday on their first extended trip of the season, a five-game jaunt that will cover 5,082 miles. It will start in Minnesota before heading to Milwaukee, Chicago, Brooklyn and Detroit. Rivers seemed optimistic that Redick would be able to play against the Timberwolves on Monday but was unsure about Paul's return.