The Clippers' 10th consecutive victory was the most unlikely in a streak that has become the NBA's longest current stretch of sustained success. DeAndre Jordan was sidelined because of pneumonia, ending the league's longest streak of consecutive games played at 360 and depriving the Clippers of their top two front-court players, with Blake Griffin also out for a ninth consecutive game. The Miami Heat also looked like it might run away with an easy victory when it built a 16-point lead in the second quarter. None of it mattered as the Clippers stormed back for a 104-90 triumph Wednesday night at Staples Center. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Cole & Pablo Show took center stage. Cole Aldrich and Pablo Prigioni, previously part of a rejuvenated second unit that helped spark the Clippers' winning streak, played starring roles Wednesday. Aldrich started at center and scored a team-high 19 points while thriving in pick-and-roll situations alongside point guard Chris Paul, and Prigioni was a defensive menace with a career-high eight steals in only 14 minutes. "He honestly drives [assistant coach] Lawrence Frank crazy," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of Prigioni, "because half of those steals he should be getting back on defense, but we have a philosophy with him: If you can get it, get it; if you get hurt, then we take you out. So he had a good night tonight." Aldrich had 13 points in the third quarter after some early verbal reinforcement from Paul. "Early in the game, I was on Cole just about rolling, rolling," Paul said. "I kept talking about getting the ball to him and then to start the second half, we just started clicking and he got rolling."
2. Doc Rivers the coach benefited from Doc Rivers the general manager. The Clippers hardly looked like a team missing its top two front-court players over the final 2 1/2 quarters. And it wasn't just Aldrich and Paul Pierce, the players in their spots, who made big contributions. Prigioni and Luc Mbah a Moute were strong defensively, Josh Smith added three steals and nine points off the bench in his first meaningful minutes since last month, Wesley Johnson made a three-pointer and Lance Stephenson didn't stage any unnecessary celebrations in his six minutes of playing time. Add it up and the Clippers received something from seven newcomers that Rivers signed this summer. Perhaps that's why Rivers didn't even mention Griffin or Jordan in the locker room before the game. "I think you have to do that," Rivers said, "because guys all can play. So you just trust them."
3. The Clippers didn't get frustrated after missing a bevy of open shots in the first half. The quickie film coaches usually show players in the locker room didn't include the usual defensive footage for a reason. "We did a collage of wide-open shots that didn't go in," Rivers said, "and we asked the guys, 'What's the big deal? You're missing open shots. Just keep playing, the odds are on your side,' and fortunately that changed and we won the game." The Clippers made 46.5% of their shots in the second half, including seven of 11 three-pointers (63.6%), but an even bigger change was improved defensive effort that led to 10 of the team's 18 steals.
4. The absences of Griffin and Jordan could actually help the Clippers over the long term. Aldrich and Smith are logging minutes they otherwise wouldn't, which is giving them experience that could help the team later in the season. "These guys missing games is giving other guys an opportunity to build their confidence," Paul said, "and that way when they come back it just adds that much more depth to our team." It also gives Rivers belief that he can rely on someone like Smith in a crucial situation after Smith showed a bit more restraint with his jump shots. "it's great to know that you have that and that can help you," Rivers said.
5. How much longer can the Clippers go streaking? They will be favored to beat Sacramento at home on Saturday regardless of whether Jordan returns, but their game against Houston on Monday figures to be a bit trickier. The Rockets have won both games against the Clippers this season and five in a row dating to the final three games of the Western Conference semifinals. What was once a bad matchup for the Rockets has turned in the other direction. But the Clippers are a different team than the one that turned in a clunker in Houston late last month before embarking on the winning streak. "I think that's how really good teams do win championships," Aldrich said. "They do win games but they also learn and get better off of those games."