The Los Angeles Clippers took advantage of Roy Hibbert’s suspension Thursday night.
Between Blake Griffin’s dunks and Chris Paul’s drives, the Clippers’ stars dominated the middle, forced Indiana into an uncharacteristically sloppy game and beat the Pacers at their own physical game inside, too.
It was the perfect recipe for getting past one of the NBA’s hottest teams.
Paul scored 29 points, one short of his season high, and Griffin finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds as the Clippers held off Indiana’s frenetic late charge for a 99-91 victory.
”I watch the Pacers a lot. (David) West is like my brother, and they have been beating teams real bad lately, especially here at home,” Paul said. ”So I think this is a good win for us. I think every night we are going into different arenas and the other team knows they are in for a dogfight. I think we’re becoming like a San Antonio or a Miami or any of the other top teams.”
On paper, it looked like any other night for the Clippers (42-18).
They dominated in the paint, outscoring Indiana 50-32. Griffin finished with at least 17 points, seven rebounds and two assists in his eighth straight game and, of course, added a couple of more dunks to his highlight reel.
Paul, second in the league in assists per game, had eight more on a night he went 11 of 18 from the field, 6 of 6 from the free-throw line and grabbed six rebounds. And Jamal Crawford scored 23 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
Los Angeles (42-18) won its third straight and this time beat one of the NBA’s best home teams on its own court.
But from the looks of it, it was a tough night, too.
Trey Thompkins sat out with a bruised left knee. Grant Hill kept an ice pack on his sore lower back all night and never made it into the game.
Eric Bledsoe played just 13 minutes, icing his sore left calf most of the night, and Matt Barnes had ice packs on both his knees when he wasn’t playing, too.
And that list didn’t even count two starters who got dinged during the game – center DeAndre Jordan, who left early in the third quarter with a bloody nose, and Griffin, who briefly pulled his shooting sleeve down so trainers could check his right elbow after he was fouled in the third quarter and crashed hard to the floor.
”It’s not great,” said Griffin, who has been dealing with a bursa sac problem in the elbow. ”I got it drained a couple weeks ago, right after the All-Star break, so I’m sure it will puff right back up.”
Whether it was because the Pacers were without Hibbert or it was just an off night, Indiana didn’t look anything like the team that had won five straight by an average margin of 23.8 points.
Instead, the Pacers (36-22) held the lead just four times all night – never by more than two points – and couldn’t keep the lead for more than one defensive possession.
David West finished with 22 points and six rebounds, All-Star Paul George had 20 points and five assists and Danny Granger played his best game since returning from a left knee injury last weekend. Granger finished with a season-high 12 points in 19 minutes on 5-of-10 shooting.
What went wrong?
The Pacers’ defense allowed Los Angeles to shoot 48.8 percent from the field and their imprecise passing led to 20 turnovers.
The biggest reason may have been the absence of Hibbert, who drew a one-game suspension for starting a shoving match in Tuesday night’s victory over Golden State.
”Roy Hibbert makes a big difference in our team,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ”Everybody says he’s having a bad year, but he’s having a good year. We have the No. 1 defense in the league and he’s a big part of it.”
That much was evident on Thursday at every key turn in the game.
The Clippers used three 13-3 spurts – one in the second quarter, one late in the third and again to start the fourth – to seize control. When the final flurry ended, the Clippers had a commanding 89-72 lead with 7:06 to play.
Indiana charged back with two 3-pointers from George and another from George Hill. And when George made two free throws with 2:45 to go, the Pacers were within 91-87.
But Paul refused to let the Pacers get any closer. He scored the final eight points for the Clippers, making a 16-foot fadeaway, driving in for two layups and making two free throws to earn the praise of the Pacers coach.
”Best point guard in the universe right now,” Vogel said.
Notes:Granger’s nine points in the first half topped his scoring total (seven) for the entire season. Thursday was only his third game back. … The Clippers have won four straight road games including one against the Lakers in the same building the Clippers call home. … These teams will meet for the second and final time April 1 and the Clippers will be trying to pull off their first season sweep of Indiana since 2003-04. … Pacers coach Frank Vogel needs two wins for No. 100 in his career.