All their talk about being better on defense, about reclaiming their defensive identity, about holding each other accountable on defense did not ring hollow from the Clippers this time.
They were unyielding Monday night, closing down nearly everything during an 88-72 victory over the Utah Jazz, who entered the game at Vivint Smart Home Arena as the NBA’s top defensive team.
The stranglehold they applied to the Jazz led to a season low in points for a Clippers opponent. The Jazz made only 32.2% of their shots, another season low for a Clippers opponent.
Their menacing defense is what allowed the Clippers to extend their winning streak in Salt Lake City to nine consecutive games.
“That was as close to 48 minutes as you can get,” said Blake Griffin, who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as his play continued trending upward.
“I thought we just did a great job of giving them the shots that we wanted to give them, making them take tougher shots than they probably wanted. I just liked our intensity to start. It was good from beginning to the end.”
In their previous 11 games, the Clippers had the worst defense in the NBA. In their previous 11 games, they gave up more than 100 points in every game.
But on Monday the Clippers finally clamped down, corralling Utah’s two best players in the process.
Luc Mbah a Moute hounded All-Star small forward Gordon Hayward into a two-for-12 shooting game.
Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton hounded Jazz point guard George Hill into two-for-11 shooting.
Hill scored six points.
“We can score against anybody,” said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who had 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. “If we come out and get stops, it’s going to be tough for the other team. That has to be our identity every night, is playing defense. We scored when we needed to. But most importantly, we got stops. This was our best defense in a while. In a while.”
Jordan was right about the scoring. It was easy at times, the Clippers building a 29-point lead in the third quarter.
That was a quarter in which the Clippers held the Jazz to 15 points on 30.4% shooting.
When it was over, the Clippers had finished their five-game trip with a 3-2 record despite losing the first two games.
And when it was over, the Clippers had moved into fourth place in the Western Conference, half a game ahead of the Jazz.
“Listen, we could play Utah most likely in the first round — probably will play Utah in the first round,” said Rivers, who scored 15 points. “So we’re fighting for home-court advantage. Every game is a big deal for us right now. We had to send a message in a way that we’re coming to play and we’re playing to compete.”