Time warp? This sounds like what Jamal Crawford was saying exactly a year ago, when the Clippers were still forging an iron-clad group that would subsequently win 57 games and survive God-knows-what when the playoff-time turmoil struck.
Staples Center was eerily quiet on Saturday. Quiet enough to hear chit-chat from the players. Even a slap of the hands before a free throw could be heard, and that was in the first half, before the Toronto Raptors were well on their way to a 110-98 win.
At this time a year ago, the Clippers were 20-11 and coming off an overtime loss at Portland, then beat Utah to start an 8-2 run.
The Clippers are 20-11 and face Utah Monday at Staples Center, with six consecutive home games to follow.
Yes, as a matter of fact there is a concern among the Clippers over backup point guard Jordan Farmar, who went scoreless as Chris Paul’s backup for the 10th time this season in their 110-98 loss to Toronto at Staples Center.
“I’m sure Doc’s going to exercise every option,” Paul said. “We talk to Jordan, he’s going to be fine. This league is all about confidence, too. Jordan knows what’s capable of but at the same time, you’ve got to be out there, you’ve got to have people encouraging you. We’re right there behind him.”
Coach Doc Rivers is searching for the right buttons to push but in the end, said Farmar is still his choice.
“I think about all 15 guys,” Rivers said. “But I think Jordan’s the right guy.”
As much as they didn’t want to lean on the fatigue issue, the Clippers couldn’t avoid it. Especially since Toronto had four days off before beating the Clippers, 110-98, with a big second half Saturday at Staples Center.
“It felt like we ran out of gas before the game started,” Chris Paul said.
The Clippers take on high-scoring Toronto at Staples Center this afternoon, so defense is a priority. Coach Doc Rivers said Big Baby Davis’ defensive presence off the bench has been key this season, particularly because he’s one the floor when DeAndre Jordan is getting a breather.
“We try to avoid the lineup with him and DJ because it’s very hard to score, but there’s been times when we’ve had no choice, unless the (opposing) team is going small,” Rivers said. “Golden State S helped us the other night – they went small for that one stretch. That allowed us not to go to that combination.
“He can create other stuff with his defense. Defense is scoring, too. If you get stops you can get transition buckets. That in a way is scoring through our defense. Baby knows our system probably better than anybody on our team, so he does help in that way.”
Performing his due diligence as a coach, Doc Rivers pulled out the video of the last time the Clippers faced the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The dreaded homework assignment was as difficult to endure as he expected.
“Honestly, I don’t know what I learned from that,” Rivers said. “You needed like three Diet Cokes to stay awake watching that game. That game was horrible to watch. By both teams. They were just less worse than us in that game.”
It was a little easier to watch Sunday night when the Clippers pulled together for a 102-80 victory over Cleveland at Staples Center. It came after another ailment struck the team when guard Darren Collison was a late scratch due to a stomach virus.
On his 25 th birthday, Griffin had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Chris Paul had 16 points and 15 assists and though the Clippers made only 44.7 percent of their shots, they committed only seven turnovers and limited Cleveland to 34.9 percent shooting.
“That’s the funnest part of the game, to tell you the truth,” Paul said of the Clippers’ defense. “Yeah, it’s nice to see 3’s and dunks and stuff go in, but the most frustrating thing you can do to another team is to stop them defensively and I think that’s where we’re really making our imprint on the games, and we’re doing it at the right time.”
The Clippers were held to a season-low 82 points on Dec. 7 in Cleveland but jumped out to a 9-0 lead, kicked it up to as many as 22 points and were never seriously threatened.
The Clippers take their winning streak to Denver Monday night. It ties for the second-longest win streak in franchise history, equaling the 11 in a row Buffalo Braves won in November of 1974.
They set the club mark last season when they won 17 in a row, not that the Clippers are completely interested in the streak.
“It’s funny,” Paul said. “We went 17 last year, and right now it’s the right time of year to be playing pretty well.”
Rookie Reggie Bullock, celebrating his 23 rd birthday, got first-quarter playing time and took advantage of his opportunity. He scored six of his career-high 14 points in the opening period, helping the Clippers to a 27-18 lead.
Before he could think about playing, though, he had to sing “Happy Birthday” to Griffin. The entire team sang for Bullock.
“It’s probably like the 10 th time he’s had to do it this year,” Griffin said of Bullock’s rendition. “And it seems like he’s getting worse.”
He might have had his potential role for the night on his mind, too.
“I just thought, ‘We’ve got so many guards out, who’s going to play the 2?’ I guess I’m the next guy in line,” Bullock said. “I just try to be confident.”
And forward Matt Barnes continued his run as well. Barnes had 11 points, making it the 12 th consecutive game of scoring in double figures. Barnes entered Sunday’s game averaging 16.4 points per game in March, shooting 55.7 percent from the field and making 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
He took over the starting small forward duties on Jan. 20.
Paul again struggled with his shot until it mattered. He went 5-for-6 from the field and scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s such a great shooter,” Rivers said. “I think there are times when he’s so focused on running the team, he comes off wide open and he’s still looking to run the team and then he’ll shoot, and those are hard shots.
“At the point guard spot, when you decide to shoot, it’s your shot. I thought he did a great job of that in the fourth quarter.”
Luol Deng led Cleveland with 23 points and Dion Waiters had 15 off the bench.
Center Spencer Hawes had 14 points and five rebounds but was ejected with 1:19 left in the game.