LOS ANGELES — The fast breaks, lob passes and high-flying dunks are all part of what makes the Clippers go, but as Chris Paul likes to say, it starts with defense.
“We have to let our defense dictate our offense,” the Clippers guard said Tuesday night. “When we make stops, we’re tough in transition.”
They proved their point in a 106-84 rout of the Charlotte Bobcats at Staples Center, and it’s one area that will serve them well at playoff time. Forcing turnovers and blocking shots, then converting them at the offensive end, all will be important down the stretch and into the postseason.
Defense wins games, but the Clippers’ 41st victory wasn’t without a bountiful supply of glitz. They had 13 slam dunks, including seven by Blake Griffin and five more by center DeAndre Jordan that were nothing short of spectacular.
But that’s what the Clippers do when they’re at their best.
It began with 3:51 left in the second quarter when Griffin dunked after taking a behind-the-back pass from Chauncey Billups, who played point guard at times because of a guard shortage (Jamal Crawford missed the game following the birth of his daughter and Eric Bledsoe sat with a sore left calf).
“I knew I could get it there,” said Billups, an old hand at the point. “I was just hoping he saw it. I’m accustomed to doing that all the time, you just don’t get to see it anymore.”
Then, in one three-play sequence just before halftime, Griffin scored on three more dunks, all assisted by Paul, including a 60-foot-long pass that he grabbed in the air and slammed in one soaring move.
“People think I did that on purpose,” Paul said of his long pass. “I just threw it up there, and I thought he’d dribble it once. You can’t guard him once he takes off.”
Said Griffin: “I didn’t want to waste time.”
The Clippers actually trailed the Bobcats, who have the worst record in the NBA at 13-44, after one quarter, 30-24. But they outscored Charlotte 58-33 in the second and third periods and easily pulled away.
They did it with defense, blocking 11 shots, making 11 steals and forcing 16 turnovers. And when they induced mistakes, they got out quickly and turned them into quick baskets.
“At times, we’re still trying to work on our execution,” Paul said, “but our defense is so amazing with our two dynamic bigs in Blake and DeAndre, who can guard and block shots and get out and run in transition.
“When we get stops, we’re tough in transition because we’ve got shooters, we’ve got flyers, and we get whatever we want.”
They did against the Bobcats. But they’ll need more of that when the playoffs begin in April.