HOUSTON — The NBA is the kind of deal where on a random night in a random city, a random guy might come off the bench and put 30 on you. It is where amazing happens, but it also is where the amazing looks mundane.
Tuesday night should have been a good night for the Los Angeles Clippers to lose. Chris Paul was injured and not playing. The Clippers were playing their second road game in as many nights. The Rockets like to play fast, the Rockets can shoot, the Rockets are a winning team. These things happen.
But Jamal Crawford came off the bench to torture Jeremy Lin and anybody else who tried guarding him, going 11 for 20 from the field and 5 for 7 from beyond the 3-point line. He scored a season-high 30 and the Clippers won going away, 117-109.
“I got the easy job, just scoring,” Crawford said. “But Grant, Blake all those guys put me in position to score.”
This is the kind of guy the Clippers are bringing off the bench to back up Paul and Blake Griffin. A guy who describes scoring 30 points in an NBA game as “the easy job.” The Clippers also are bringing Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Grant Hill off the bench most nights, which is kind of like when your Cadillac won’t start so you just take the Beemer to work.
Crawford has led L.A. in scoring 12 times this season, and the Clippers have won 11. Hill overheard this statistic and began touting Crawford as an All-Star.
“Are the ballots over?” he said. “I’ll call the coaches.”
Crawford laughed. Hill is an ideal delegate on such matters.
“They respect you, too,” he said.
It’s just kind of like that with the Clippers. This group is deeper than Nietzsche, but all the Clippers say it also is the most unselfish group they’ve been part of.
“That ’07-08 team in New Orleans was pretty good with chemistry,” said Paul, the former Hornets star. “But this is top to bottom. Everybody.”
With Paul out, Bledsoe started Tuesday, going for 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Barnes had 18. Griffin, who started, had 19 points and eight rebounds. The Clippers shot 54 percent from the field and 58 percent from 3-point range.
The Clippers were down by one at halftime, and it was pretty clear they’d had enough of that nonsense. Six-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter, they led by 18.
“We couldn’t establish much defensively,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
That’s not really the Rockets’ bag anyway. The Rockets (21-18) are the kind of team that either beats you by getting out into transition and hitting a bunch of 3’s, or they don’t beat you. They missed 24 of 37 3-pointers Tuesday, James Harden went 8 for 20 for 23 points, and you can see the result.
“We didn’t play much defense,” Chandler Parsons said.
Nobody would argue, but remember, the guy who lit up the Rockets is the kind of guy who thinks scoring is the easy part.
“Jamal is going to score when he gets going like that,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It doesn’t matter who you put on him.”
The Clippers are going to have more nights like this, and soon. They will soon get Paul back and (oh yeah!) Chauncey Billups too. But Monday night’s win in Memphis began a stretch in which they play 13 of 16 on the road.
At 30-9 they are just a half-game behind Oklahoma City for the top spot in the Western Conference, meaning this stretch could be huge, one way or the other.
“We’ve shown over the course of the season we can take a punch and get back up,” Crawford said.
People are starting to wonder if this team is good enough to win the NBA title — for a franchise that’s won just two playoff series since moving from Buffalo.
“They can say what they want,” Paul said. “We’ve got a long way to go before we’re even close to that.”