NBA AM: Clippers Thriving Without Blake Griffin


Clippers Thriving Without Blake Griffin

Even without Blake Griffin, for the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s been smooth sailing.

Griffin last took the floor for the Clippers on Christmas Day. The Clippers were just 16-13 at that point and widely considered to be one of the more disappointing teams in the Western Conference.

Now, just 18 days later, they’re the hottest team in the NBA.

“If anyone would have said you’re gonna lose Blake Griffin and win nine in a row, not a lot of people would have believed you,” Jamal Crawford said recently.

And regardless as to whether that win streak extends into double digits, it is easy to see that the Clippers have found what Doc Rivers has been searching for.

* * * * *

It’s about two weeks before Christmas and the Clippers are playing a Saturday matinee in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The team pulls out the win, but afterward the upbeat Rivers let it be known that his team still has a long way to go.

Offensively, Rivers said that he believed the Clippers were among the top teams in the league, but their defense, the coach said, is what would make all the difference in the world. And that second unit? Rivers wanted to see more from them.

One month later, the Clippers have seemingly flown under the radar and have established themselves as one of the top teams in the West. It just so happens that nobody is paying attention.

BlakeGriffinInsideOnly12“I don’t think we found anything new,” Chris Paul said with a shrug. “I think our defense—we’re just buying into the principles a little more consistently.”

“For us, we’re just trying to stay consistent,” Crawford said. “We’re not trying to break any streaks or anything, we’re just trying to play good basketball and figure out exactly what we’re gonna do and hold the fort until Blake gets back and incorporate him from there.”

Funny thing is, the rest of the NBA is trying to figure these Clippers out, as well.

Secretly being driven by a want to avenge their collapse to the Houston Rockets during last season’s playoffs, at least publicly, these Clippers are following the old adage that Rivers used to preach his to Boston Celtics.

It’s a long season. 

Don’t listen to what anyone else thinks or says about you. 

Just take it one day at a time.

So far, so good.

“It’s just the spirit that I think that we’ve been playing with,” Paul says when asked what has changed for these Clippers.

“When you lose someone as important as Blake, everybody knew they had to step up, so it’s by committee. A lot of times, we just throw it to him and watch him go to work. Now, you know we’re having to do a lot more, our defense sort of came together and we just keep trying to hold it down until he gets back.”

Like the Washington Wizards, the Clippers have dealt with quite a few issues en route to their slow start, but since 2016, the team will enter play on January 12 as the hottest team in the league and one that seems rejuvenated in their pursuit of the accomplishments that their collective talent could yield.

When asked to explain the cause of the slow start, Crawford offers several reasons.

“I think a combination of things,” Crawford said. “Obviously, I missed time before in the past, J.J. [Redick] has missed time, Chris has missed time, Blake has missed time. The only guy out of that core group that’s been a constant has been DeAndre [Jordan].

“We’ve kind of figured out ways to play and I think we’ve all stepped it up; it doesn’t have to be one person every single game and I think our second unit is finding continuity and I think that helps keep the starters off the floor so they’re fresher down the stretch.”

Luc Mbah a Moute, a new face on these Clippers, points out that there are nine new faces on this Clippers team. According to the veteran forward, the team’s recent success has just as much to do with their improved effort on the defensive end as it does with the simple fact that the team is collectively building chemistry.

Whatever the cause, the Clippers have very quietly been playing great basketball. A lot has changed over the past month.

Yet still, surprisingly, even without the All-Star Griffin in the lineup, at least recently, it’s been smooth sailing for the Clippers.

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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Senior Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.

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